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More AIS in the USA, the new USCG requirements

Tue, 2015-02-03 07:35

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 3, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Please credit the U.S. Coast Guard with a sense of humor. The (NOA and) AIS Final Rule may be a dry read, but not last week’s email announcement, which began with the giddy declaration “4,232 days in the making!” I don’t know why the rulemaking process took so long, and it may have been most frustrating for those who do, but I’ll still be glad to have more of the commercial vessels working along our coasts equipped with AIS. It won’t happen fast, though — vessels newly required to carry Class A or B AIS transponders can take until March 2016 to install them — and the number of such vessels seems uncertain…

When the new requirements were first drafted in 2008, the USCG suggested that Class B transponders might be allowed in some cases to lower costs. In fact, about half of the commercial vessels affected by the requirements will be allowed to use Class B, as illustrated above and at Vesper Marine. Vessels less than 65′ but with 50 or more passengers escaped AIS requirements in the final rule, but when I wrote “USCG AIS mandates, get’er done, please!” in 2010 they only accounted for about 1,000 boats and all the USCG category counts have gone down considerably.

The CG has posted the new “Potentially Effected Population” (sic) count above on their informative AIS FAQ list. Compared to the 2010 count, the total fishing vessels over 65 feet went from over 5,500 to under 3,000, and towing vessels > 26′ & > 600hp from over 4,500 to under 1,500. With the <65′ >50 passenger exclusion, the grand total went from over 17,000 to 5,848. I thought the lower category numbers might be because they eliminated vessels that had already installed AIS voluntarily — like the Maine State Ferries (thank goodness) — but actually it’s because the CG “rid our databases of old and/or duplicate records.”

So I’m going to guess (wildly) that the number of vessels which haven’t already installed AIS but must by 3/1/2016 is about 4,000. That’s a long way from 17,000, but then again, many of the new AIS vessels are underway a lot, voluntary Class B on recreational vessels is increasing rapidly, and the more boats that have it, the more useful it is. It’s a virtuous circle.

If you do have a commercial vessel that may be affected by the new requirements — or if you install electronics on such vessels — perhaps the best breakdown of the “A or B” question is the one above created by SRT and posted at Port Supply along with some good videos about installing (SRT made) Em-Trak Class A and B devices on workboats. Milltech Marine is a great AIS resource, especially for do-it-yourselfers; the expertise of True Heading has come to the USA; and there are reviews and more in Panbo’s AIS section. Now let’s look beyond extended AIS carriage requirements in the USA.

We added a section to 33 CFR part 62 and amended two sections in part 66 to address a comment requesting that we expand AIS carriage to offshore fixed structures. In our NPRM, we encouraged broader use of AIS, but this comment highlighted a particular shortcoming regarding offshore fixed structures. Our proposed rule addressed mobile shipboard devices such as AIS Class A or B, but not offshore structures or AIS Aids to Navigation (AIS AtoN) systems which are best suited for fixed position deployment, such as on offshore oil platforms. Existing AtoN regulations (see 33 CFR 66.01-1 Basic Provisions) bar the use of AIS as a Private Aid to Navigation, and thus preclude the use of an AIS AtoN on certain fixed structures. This prohibition in the current AtoN regulations is inconsistent with our stated objective of broadening the use of AIS. An AIS AtoN would provide position, name, and health status of the aid, such as “on station, watching properly.” These amendments to parts 62 and 66, which allow for enhanced MDA and improved navigation safety, would not require anyone subject to our rule to establish an AIS AtoN, they would merely make that option available.

There’s a whole lot more to the new regulations, and I don’t mean the Notice of Arrivals (NOA) part, which I don’t fully understand and which doesn’t seem relevant to recreational vessels. What struck me in the long, though often elegantly written, Final Rule is the Coast Guard’s broad confidence in the value of AIS both for vessel safety and MDA (Marine Domain Awareness), plus its longterm vision for using it for even more good. I hope the folks who worry about AIS “clutter” and an overburdened system pay attention to where the experts are at after years of experiencing AIS in action.

One example is a modification to the AtoN regs that permits AIS AtoNs — now in wide beta use around the U.S.– to be put up privately (with permission). I highlighted the pertinent Final Rule text above, but then check out the actual “Broader Use of AIS” section for a description of how AIS Application Specific Messaging (ASM) will be used to “provide a more dynamic detail to information that is traditionally conveyed by slower means: chart updates, (e.g., new navigation hazards), printed notices to mariners, navigation publications and directives, meteorological and hydrographic Web sites, and more.” I’m just beginning to understand the ASM aspect of AIS myself, but the USCG is on it, and the possibilities are exciting.

Of course, other people may read this rule in other ways (which may be why it took so long to iron out). In fact, I’ve already heard from a chap who wrote of the rule that he was “surprised that the recreational 65′ vessel was dropped as it was a concern for homeland security and the potential carrying capacity for destructive weapons.” When I replied that I’d never had an inkling that the USCG was planning to mandate AIS on recreational vessels, he couldn’t document his assertion at all, but nonetheless referenced the Rule Note at bottom to conclude that:

Captain of the Port now has the very broad authority to determine who may be required to install AIS…which is a round-about method to addressing to any recreation vessels. You will note it does not specify commercial. This presently satisfies the Homeland security issue and would allow a “quick” fix if desired. (Anticipate the future to require recreational vessels over 65′ to be AIS carriage in certain areas.)

Sheesh! What the Note actually says, I’m pretty sure, is that while the Captain of the Port has always had broad authority to restrict vessel use, he or she can now permit a dubious vessel of any sort to operate if it voluntarily installs AIS. It’s an option, not a mandate, even for those folks who think AIS somehow threatens their liberty. What concerns me much more is what happens if terrorists do strike a soft target with a small vessel, as I once heard a USCG Rear Admiral worry about. But that’s me. What rational conclusions do you draw from the new regs, and what did you find if dug deep?

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

Schooner Mahdee & Bootstrap Adventure

Tue, 2015-02-03 00:00

Andy spoke with Brenda of the schooner Mahdee, which is currently berthed in California. Brenda and her husband David got inspired to go sailing in their college years while on a cycling trip around Lake Superior. Eating from a camp stove, they looked at a sailboat on the lake and thought, ‘that’s how we ought to travel!’

Years went by, and Brenda and David traveled all over the world following his career as a Navy Pilot while Brenda picked up Engineering jobs. Finally, in 2006, their dream came true when they bought and begant the lengthy restoration of the classic 1931 schooner Mahdee. Since launch, they’ve cruised the west coast as far as Alaska, and are full-time liveaboards, having sold everything ashore to follow their dream. Check out Mahdee’s transformation on blog.mahdee.com.

Their latest project is Bootstrap Adventure (bootstrapadventure.com), where they’re attempting to create a marketplace for outdoor adventurers to buy and sell gear, knowledge and experience.

Want to go ocean sailing with Andy? Book a berth on 59-north.com/events.

Treasures at the Beach

Mon, 2015-02-02 19:41

There was a time in my life when a visit to the beach was as rare and exciting as Christmas. Once in a blue moon my parents would hook the pop-up trailer to the back of the Big Red Van, and we would trundle off to Southampton. It didn’t matter if the water was cold, we didn’t care if the sky was grey. We were at the beach! Seashells! Sand castles! Bathing suits 24/7, baby! Peeling shoulders, new friends from exotic locales such as Sarnia and Guelph, and hair full of sand. It was about as good as life gets.

For my kids, excitement is seeing a squirrel in Grannie and Poppa’s backyard. “Oh! Oh! Mom! Did you see that? Quick, look – it’s a squirrel! Oh my gosh, can I go outside and see it? I hope it doesn’t run away!” There’s no doubt they love the beach, but there is no mystery there. Try to entice them with a stretch of sand and the promise of some fish in the water, and all you’ll get is a look that says, “Okay, okay, don’t hurt yourself. It’s just the beach.”

But new-and-unexplored or old-and-familiar, the beach is still a ton of fun. Who can say no to this?

First stop is always the water. Sunday morning, Stylish immediately took possession of a boogie board, and went out in the waves.

Erik went in search of bigger game. Our friends had an extra surfboard on hand, so he paddled out to give it a try.

Erik has long cherished a wish to go kite surfing, but had to settle for trying regular surfing this time. Myself, I wonder at the need for a kite. I guess there is nothing like zooming along the surface of the water at up to 100 kph on a tiny board. But why is it that every sport Erik enjoys involves a harness and a safety knife to cut yourself free?

I went for a snorkel (undocumented, comme d’habitude). Some fish, some coral, watch for rip currents and the breaking waves; same old, same old. Honestly, I could do it every day.

But even the boring old beach can have surprises in store. After Indy finished her wave-jumping exercises, she went in search of shells. Each time she found a good one, she ran back up the beach, showed it off, then ran back to the water’s edge for more.
A Frisbee full of shells.

But the best was yet to come. “Mooooooom!” she yelled, running towards me. “Look what I found! It’s a piece of pottery. I think it was a cup. It must have come from a shipwreck. I’m so excited!”

Indy happily tucked her find into the dive bag, and scampered off to look for more.

Meanwhile, Stylish had also started beachcombing. Being older and that much more savvy, she sent a younger child to fetch me when she found something good.

I’ll admit, I didn’t expect her to find a sewing machine.
Now, where did you come from?

It is an old Singer, but the logo is a little different from the others I saw poking around online. I’d love to know what era this is from – can anyone help me out? (I’m looking at you, Mom.) Amazingly enough, the chrome on the flywheel and the thread plate is still as shiny as ever. It is too bad the body is so rusty; it is certainly the most unusual thing we have ever found on the beach.

Stylish really wanted to bring it home, but Mean Mom and Dad said no. Now, I kind of regret that. I’d like to take a better look at the machine.

Maybe we’ll have to go back to the beach this weekend.

What’s Sailing in Cuba Really Like?

Mon, 2015-02-02 14:59

Seeing the mountains of Cuba, especially after leaving the flat and featureless Bahamas, is exciting. You know it’s going to be different, but just how different you don’t know. Equal parts of fear and anticipation, hesitancy and expectation, jitter about in your mind. It’s not at all like entering any other country.

As you approach, and generally somewhere about 9 or 10 miles out, the Cuban Guarda Frontera (coast guard) contacts you via VHF with a request you identify yourself and your intentions. This is it. You’re heading in and your entire cruising experience is about to be changed.

ooops…..

My first visit I entered at Puerto de Vita after a 65 nm crossing from Ragged Island in the Bahamas. I then managed to put myself aground right at sunset – at high tide no less. The next morning, the doctor had to give me pratique with the boat over at 30 degrees. ‘Come ahead in your dinghy, you can complete clearing in when you get your boat to the marina,’ he told me.  No stress, totally at ease with the situation. That made one of us, but this casual attitude to life’s difficulties was typical of most Cubans.

Customs officer in Varadero

It was the following day’s higher high tide before I was able to kedge Gypsy Wind into deep water, and head into the marina. There had been no issues with my hanging about during the day waiting on the tide, everyone was friendly, and several offered to assist in getting the boat free.
Once tied up, about 10 officials boarded the boat to complete clearing me in – Guarda officials, the vet to deal with agricultural issues, marina manaager, Customs, and a drug dog with handler.

Every one of them had his/her papers to be signed, and only a couple of them spoke really good English, so with my non-existent Spanish, it went slowly. Two hours later however, the last of them departed with a smile, and a few cans of Coke as small ‘regalos’ – gifts.
My boat had been searched, although not extensively, and my handheld GPS had been sealed into a locker. The flare gun was a non-issue, although that wouldn’t be the case in Havana. The big concerns were drugs, weapons, and certain foodstuffs, such as lettuce, and eggs. On another occasion, the agricultural inspector actually used a jeweller’s loupe to inspect lettuce for mold.
After this carnival however, boardings at each new location were limited to presenting my passport and despacho (zarpe), a quick look around, and a cheerful welcome from the local Guarda officer. Pretty painless in other words.

Guarda post inside north coast pocket bay

 

The marina staff at Puerto de Vita, headed by former schoolteacher Tina, were smiling, polite and friendly, although only a few spoke passable English. I made friends with several of the staff and a few of the cruisers at the dock. Like any good sailor, I found the showers, and the bar/restaurant. I was ready to experience Cuba.

Over the next few days I spoke extensively with Tina about my ongoing plans, where I could go, where I could not, what the rules for cruisers were in this Communist nation. I learned I could only go ashore with the boat at a marina. Rowing ashore from anchor wasn’t permitted – although you could anchor off a marina and row in. Certain locations, such as nearby Gibara (pronounced hibara) were ‘prohibido’, off limits. No reason given, and you could certainly travel overland to visit, but not by boat. A lot of the rules don’t make sense, but that’s just how Cuba is. Eventually, you just accept the insanity of it all.

Leaving Puerto de Vita a week later, I decided to head for Gibara anyway as there was an international film festival underway…only to be greeted on approach by the Guarda on the VHF saying “Yipsy Wind, Yipsy Wind…” – the Guarda officer couldn’t pronounce the ‘g’ in the boat’s name. As I proceeded, it became clear that they were getting annoyed with me. Although I couldn’t understand what was being said, the words ‘es prohibido’ kept cropping up and that was pretty clear. I tacked and headed on to the next cape and into an anchorage for the night.

The 300 plus nm west to Varadero over the next two weeks were wonderful. I’d spend the evenings perusing Nigel Calder’s Cruising Guide to Cuba for my next anchorage, carefully reading his cautions about reef entries, shoals, pocket bays and anchorages. Plans made, I’d motor out to the reef, raise sail and enjoy a 7 knot downwind romp to my next stop, day after day.

Cuba is best experienced heading west, to take full advantage of the currents and trade winds. I spent not even $20 on diesel fuel before returning stateside from Varadero.
I met one fellow taking his boat from Fort Lauderdale to Brazil. He was having an awful time of it, and had shredded his main by the time he’d gotten to Cayo Coco, beating against the trades.
At that point, he’d travelled 500 miles, nonstop, to make about 175 good, having gone directly south to Cuba before turning east. I’d travelled 175 miles, stopping every evening after a great day of sailing to rest, and dining on lobster or fish I’d traded t-shirts for with local fishermen. He looked like he’d been beaten with a stick – a big stick. He had no weather radio either. I suggested he return to Florida, get new sails and a radio, and try again but through the Bahamas to get some easting rather than taking on the trades for the next 1600 nm to Port of Spain.

Dock at Cayo Coco, or Guillermo – no showers, no heads. Just a dock..and an extremely challenging entrance.

Cayo Coco, or Guillermo as it’s also known, is a tourist area with a small marina. It’s a very difficult, poorly marked and shallow entry and boats often go aground entering or leaving. It has no facilities, not even bathrooms or showers, and the nearest provisioning is 50 miles away. I’ve been told it’s closed now and boats have to anchor on the far side of the island.

There are all inclusive resorts however, and I wandered into one for something to do. I met up with a British couple at the pool, some French and Italian tourists and a few Canadians. They were entranced by my stories of what the real Cuba was like, there being no towns or villages near the resort for them to visit.
This is typical. The Cuban government tries, as much as possible, to keep everyday Cubans from interacting with tourists. Obviously this isn’t possible in places such as Havana, or Varadero, but where it’s possible, they do it, often locating resorts at a great distance from any community.

However, Cubans are friendly folk and eager to meet us. In Holguin, Cuba’s second largest city which I visited in a rental car, I met a local schoolteacher who offered to show me around his hometown. He was obviously quite proud of where he lived, despite the obvious poverty.
In most places, you could expect the hand to be out pretty quickly, but not in Cuba. I had to cajole my new friend into having lunch with me, a soda and slice of pizza, perhaps $3 for both of us, and there was never a request for a gratuity for his services as a tour guide.

City of Holguin from the mountaintop

 

This was the norm. Walking back to the boat very late one evening in Varadero, I was invited to join a group of Cubans sitting drinking rum and singing at a restaurant patio. Only one spoke good English, a woman in a wheelchair playing guitar.
She played a John Denver song for me, the only English tune she knew, to welcome me. Joining them, I drank rum and danced until nearly dawn, laughing and talking with my new friends before returning to my boat at the marina.

Stay tuned – more to come….

RAINMAKER ABANDONED: Gunboat 55 Hull No. 1 Dismasted, Crew Evacuated by Helo

Sat, 2015-01-31 20:14

For me this is like déjà vu all over again. All this month I’ve been thinking about where I was a year ago, dangling from a wire beneath a Coast Guard helicopter many miles offshore with a busted catamaran beneath me. For SAIL Magazine’s story click here. This year’s victim, unfortunately, is an award-winning Gunboat 55, hull no. 1, Rainmaker, which got dismasted yesterday after getting raked by a 70-knot whiteout squall about 200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. The five-member crew elected to abandon the vessel and was evacuated by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter operating near the limit of its range.

Gunboat CEO Peter Johnstone broke the story late yesterday on his Facebook page and described the incident to me in more detail early this afternoon.

Rainmaker was 36 hours into a passage that began at Gunboat’s North Carolina yard, bound for St. Martin, when she was dismasted. Sustained winds at the time were 30-35 knots, with 40-knot squalls coming through at intervals. The crew, led by skipper Chris Bailet and owner Brian Cohen, were flying a triple-reefed mainsail and a storm jib. Also aboard were Cohen’s son and two other professional crew. The coup-de-grace was delivered by one 70-knot squall, a microburst Johnstone termed it, that looked no different from the other squalls as it approached. In Johnstone’s words: “The mast came down with the wall of wind.”

According to Johnstone, the rig was cleared with no damage to the hull, and the crew salvaged the storm jib in hopes of putting up a jury rig later. There were lines around the props, which precluded any motoring until they could be cleared. “No question, they probably could have turned downwind and tried to sort something out later,” Johnstone told me. “But the weather forecast was bad, and in the end they decided to play it safe with the lives aboard.”

According to the Coast Guard’s report, a 350-foot cargo vessel, Ocean Crescent, was 40 miles from the scene and diverted to pick up the crew, but was unable to come alongside the catamaran. According to Johnstone, Rainmaker collided violently with the ship and was almost sucked into its propeller. Ultimately, the crew was lifted off at approximately 5 pm by a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter sent from the Coast Guard airbase at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Jayhawk reportedly didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to Elizabeth City and instead landed in Manteo, North Carolina, not too far from the Gunboat yard, at 8:10 pm.

Here’s a viddy of the lift that the Coasties have posted:

Conditions look quite a bit rougher than they were when I got to appear in one of these productions last year.

I am sure a lot of people out there are already in Armchair Admiral Mode, doing the would-have should-have could-have thing, second-guessing the crew’s decision to abandon ship, but I can tell you from experience this is a definitely-have-to-be-there sort of decision. I met the skipper, Chris Bailet, when I was aboard Rainmaker at the Newport show last fall and was very impressed with him. I’m guessing he very likely might have organized a way to get the boat back to shore once the weather settled out, but there are other personal factors to consider. I’m thinking in particular of the owner, and that son of his. I’ve met many owners who are bolder than their skippers when it comes to a boat’s safety. But a child’s safety is something else entirely.

Johnstone has stated an effort will be made to retrieve the boat, which is valued at about $2.5 million. I imagine right now they’re pretty busy organizing that.

This is Rainmaker on her home turf, off Manhattan. Brian Cohen intended to use her as “a floating conference center” for a group of investors he leads during the summer season and spend winters aboard down in the Caribbean. You can read more about Cohen and the boat in this Forbes profile here, and can also catch them together in this viddy:

Rainmaker‘s crew with the Coasties that retrieved them, safe and sound in Carolina

One question I’m asking myself is about the ultimate range of these Coast Guard rescue helicopters. We were 300 miles offshore when we were rescued last year, and they refueled twice at sea on a U.S. Navy vessel while retrieving us, once coming out to us and once going back. When I asked about this, my Coasties told me the Jayhawk’s range is about 300 miles. Hence on a 600-mile round trip, plus spending a lot of time hovering while lifting people aboard, it obviously made sense to stop twice for gas.

Now here we have the same helo saving Rainmaker’s crew on a 400-mile round trip with no fuel stops and apparently just barely enough fuel aboard to pull it off.

According to Wikipedia, the Jayhawk “is designed to fly a crew of four up to 300 miles offshore, hoist up to 6 additional people on board while remaining on scene for up to 45 minutes and return to base while maintaining an adequate fuel reserve.”

Anyone got hard facts on this?

GoFree goes online & Insight Genesis Social Mapping goes free

Fri, 2015-01-30 09:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 30, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

The 2015 Navico writers event was in the same Florida Keys location as last year’s spectacular, which only seemed to highlight the rapid development pace we witnessed. For instance, fishing in a now familiar place and style with the new Lowrance HDS Gen3 multifunction display really showed off the phenomenal variety and quality of functions built in. It may even qualify as a “revolutionary” MFD feature set, despite my earlier skepticism, and it wasn’t even mentioned at the 2014 event. But that story will have to wait. Last fall Navico also announced a plan to get their MFDs online and, as suggested on the screen above, I got to see the software update in action. It’s only the beginning of what the GoFree online connection can be, but it’s an impressive beginning…

So while it was easy to get the Lowrance HDS Gen3 online by pointing its built-in WiFi to my phone’s hotspot, don’t presume that we could then download weather files, browse email, or auto log engine data to the cloud while motoring around Hawk’s Cay. All that and much more may come but for now the MFDs can only perform a few tasks with their Internet connection, one of which is to purchase charts from the GoFree Shop. It’s still called the Insight Store on the Web, but you can see the wide variety of charts and maps offered, which now include not only NV raster charts but also Fugawi rasters of Canada and the US. (We also learned that the next edition of the C-Map Max N+ cartography bundle seen above will include many C-Map 4D features like raster chart and hi-res bathy layers, but that too is another story.)

Now some folks may be put off that a first Navico MFD online “feature” involves spending more money more easily, but consider the heavy development required to make that work.

Purchasing and downloading very large files has only recently gotten easy and reliable ashore, so making it work with a relatively limited MFD and a possibly flaky boat Internet connection is quite a challenge. But it seems like Navico has worked it out in detail. The system warns you if your SD card doesn’t have sufficient room, for instance, and an interrupted download restarts without data loss when the connection is re-established. Going online with the GoFree Shop is also synchronized to your online account and apparently secure enough to protect your credit card info and the data of the many chart companies that are participating.

So it looks to me like most of the major “iMFD” challenges have been addressed; if GoFree online can manage large secure files over intermittent Internet connections, many of the other possibilities — did I mention easy chart updating? — should be quite doable. The software update for Lowrance HDS Gen2 Touch, Simrad NSS evo2, and B&G Zeus2 should be out soon, and it can also download firmware updates and automatically upload sonar files. And there’s some great news about what those sonar files can do.

Navico’s Insight Genesis make-your-own maps system just got a lot of new features, and the free version got a lot more valuable. Specifically, anyone registered in the free IG program can not only turn their sonar logs into online maps, as I tried back in 2013, but also download those maps to their MFD along with any other sonar map made available by fellow Insight Genesis users. Navico calls them Social Maps and once you register you’ll find that there are already at least bits of Social Map lake and coast coverage all around the world, searchable with online lists or satellite maps.

The $99/year Premium Insight Genesis subscription is still needed download private sonar maps as well as extra vegetation and bottom composition layers, as explained in this Free versus Premium comparison. But I think that a big deal here is the combination of the new GoFree MFD online abilities and the free Social Map downloads. While the sonar mapping off Hawk’s Cay seen below is pretty spotty and the HDS screenshots were taken 1,500 miles away in Tulsa, consider how this will work in the very near future. The boater, if agreeable, will automatically collect sonar logs which will automatically upload to the IG servers whenever their MFD is online via their phone or marina WiFi, even if it takes several sessions. A few days later the processed Social Map will be available to download direct to the MFD and at any time the user can easily grab existing Social Maps, all for free if you own a current generation display.

These Navico developments are a challenge to the Navionics subscription-only SonarChart model, though it would be nice to see SonarCharts also available at the GoFree Shop (which is possible I think). The easy new MFD integration and freemium pricing are also a recipe for rapid worldwide Social Map coverage, and at least tentatively I think that the Insight Genesis system produces higher quality bottom mapping than SonarCharts. So while the sonar sensor wars rage on, the crowd-sourced sonar map competition may be just getting started, and isn’t it all good for us?

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

Preparing for passage making

Fri, 2015-01-30 06:02

How do you get ready for a passage? We’ve done it enough, but we’re rusty. And the upcoming ~1,200 nm from Malaysia to Sri Lanka is our first passage in a year of big passages. Even though we keep Totem in shape, after more than two years of mostly coastal sailing important to avoid complacency and make sure we’re on top of all systems aboard before taking off. Of course, life on a boat is a constantly scrolling list of repairs and maintenance, but the miles ahead add extra pressure.

So, what are we doing before we leave? Here’s a look at the current list.

Rigging. Jamie’s been checking a lot of rigs on other boats- time to check ours! He uses a magnifying glass (ours is the salvaged eyepiece from an old pair of binoculars) and scrutinizes it. Inspection is almost complete. He’s also re-spliced the inner forestay to get more tension, cleaned up chafe protection (re-purposed old yoga mats) has mostly tuned the rig.

Main strop. Our current strop has done enough time in tropical UV rays, so Jamie’s going to make a new one.

Vang. Needed a simple repair after blowing up on our sail between Koh Muk and Koh Lipe recently.

Sails. We bent on our new headsail yesterday. WOW, did that feel good! It’s very pretty. Who wants a 93% genoa? Still has life!

Steering system. Resolved play in the quadrant, adjusted and inspected the steering cable.

Alternator. After acting funny for a few hours recently, island hopping in Thailand, the alternator simply stopped charging our battery bank. The alternator was inspected by a mechanic; a few broken wires, fixed, working. Except it didn’t. Next in the charging chain is the voltage regulator, but with our backup installed we still weren’t charging. But it DID work when the backup-backup-ancient-dinosaur voltage regulator was installed. Eureka! We are now awaiting a new voltage regulator.

Wiring jobs. Above deck, wrapping up some wiring into the new solar arch for the stern light and the aft deck light. Below deck, it cleaning up electrical connections- there were signs of corrosion in a few spots.

Safety on deck. Installing jacklines, and securing bolts in all the lifeline stanchions. And, new PFDs: turns out, not all of our inflatables would still inflate when we tested them recently (a sobering moment). We couldn’t find them for sale here, but a friend / blog reader / sail customer in Singapore came up from Langkawi last weekend and offered to bring new PFDs from a chandlery there. Thank you Stephan!

Lines everywhere. Inspecting running rigging. Installing a preventer. Running lines for the asymmetric, which we think may get a lot of use soon (finally! But Jamie still wishes we had a Code Zero instead).

Outboard maintenance. It’s been misfiring; a little cleanup in order.

Windlass. Our installed windlass will get a little routine TLC, and our spare motor has been taken in for service. We rely on this too much to be without a backup…or skip on taking care of the one we have!

Stowage. Best advice I had in early cruising days: take a photo of your cabin. Rotate it 90 degrees, and see what won’t stay in. Rotate it another 90 degrees, and see what’s going to fall. We’ve not had rough weather in a while, and it’s really important to make sure everything has a place and will stay in it. First, we’re trying to have less stuff to stow…

Medical kit. Review of kit contents, and stowage. We have several kits, and they’ve gotten a little mixed up and messy over the last couple of years. Not to mention we’ve burned through more antibiotic ointment than expected: we don’t want to risk infection from cuts or scrapes in the tropics.

Safety gear. Checking all the fire extinguishers. Reviewing the contents of our ditch kits (and their expiration dates), and re-stowing the kits in more accessible locations for the passage. We’ll test our EPIRB, update our beacon registration, and send a message to emergency contacts about our plans.

Galley organization. We’re still getting used to where things go and how they’re secured. I’m sure we’ll learn more on this passage. Meanwhile, knives are getting two new under-cabinet magnets for storage.

Paperwork. Everything from visas, to clearance agents, to taxes, to health and boat insurance… it’s mind numbing, and it drains the wallet, but it has to be done.

Provisioning. Right, THAT! We did a big run in Phuket. We’ll top up here. My provisioning strategy for now is mostly passage focused, vs. looking at the broader season in the Indian Ocean, since I hear we’ll have good produce in Sri Lanka. I’ll wait until then to do canning and other longer-term provisioning. And, it’s not just food: we’ll top up on fuel and water before we leave as well.

Random pesky stuff. Our headliner replacement wasn’t complete when we left Satun. We don’t have time for all the trim work but will make sure the panels are secure so nothing becomes a hazard on the passage. A number of drawers need latches or pulls, and the chart locker needs a door.

There is a light at the end of this prep tunnel. We’re working through steadily. Jamie’s watching weather, I’m helping with net control for the HF radio net with other boats pointing across the Indian Ocean. And we’re excited, all of us, about a new horizon.

Passage prep’s a snap for readers who click through to the Sailfeed website!

TOPPLED: Sloop Providence Replica Falls Off Jackstands in “Historic” N.E. Blizzard

Wed, 2015-01-28 16:11

Ouch! This happened yesterday in Newport, Rhode Island, at the Newport Shipyard, where Providence was blocked up for the winter. Though the yard staff evidently stuck in some extra jackstands before the storm, they weren’t up to the job. The vessel’s mast is busted and her fiberglass hull has been punctured. She also, coincidentally, is for sale, so now’s the time to come in with a super lowball bid if you’re interested.

Here are some more pix:

(Top 2 pix are by Dave Hansen, the bottom 2 are by Rocky Steeves, courtesy of the Associated Press)

The original Providence was built in 1775 and served during the Revolutionary War under John Paul Jones, among others. She is credited with having sunk or captured 40 British ships during the war. The replica (61 feet on deck, 110 feet overall) was built in 1976 for the Bicentennial and has served in two Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Blizzard, you say?

Most definitely, that’s what it was. In New York City they may be whimpering about the storm that wasn’t, but here on the New Hampshire coast the snow is as high as an elephant’s eye (as Oscar Hammerstein might put it), and we are still digging out. On Nantucket I understand the island was raked by 80-mph winds and they lost all power and communications, no ferries or flights in or out, and they only have food for a week. The town of Scituate is under 5 feet of water, Worcester got 31 inches, etc., etc.

For me personally, however, this has all worked out very well. I was scheduled to fly down to St. Martin yesterday to spend some time on Lunacy, but I was also coming down with the flu (courtesy of my disease-vector daughter Lucy, which is why I’m calling this the “flucy”), and I really didn’t want to waste my cruise in the W’Indies feeling like death warmed over. Thanks to the storm my flight was preemptively cancelled, and I was able to push everything back a week without paying any change fees. Now I have plenty of time to lie in bed moaning and groaning while watching snow drifts envelope the house. Plus I’ll be around to watch the Super Bowl.

No, I haven’t taken any pix of snow outside the house to share with you. But follow this link here and you can see some pix and a time-lapse video of yesterday’s storm as it was experienced at the new skating rink just down the street.

I’m telling you, that rink is boss. They’re reopening today at noon, and if I wasn’t feeling so crappy I’d be down there with the blades on with the quickness.

UPDATE: Crikey. It’s worse than I thought. Turns out someone just signed a sales agreement on Providence and she was scheduled to be surveyed. Hope it comes out OK.

Why we love cruising in Thailand

Wed, 2015-01-28 04:53

We’ve checked out of Thailand, and don’t know when we’ll be back. While we wrap up pre-passage projects on Totem in Malaysia, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on what we loved (and didn’t) about the nearly six months we’ve spent in Thailand between 2013 and 2014.

The landscapes are breathtaking. The Andaman coast is peppered with stunning spots. From the surreal archipelago of limestone spires in Phang Nga bay to the sparkling water of the marine park islands offshore, there’s one beautiful anchorage after another. There should probably be a whole separate post of favorite places!

beautiful Phang Nga bay

The food is outrageously good. And it’s not just good, it’s cheap. For a family like ours on a small budget, we typically pass on restaurant meals ashore. Not in Thailand! Delicious curries and stir fries are $1-2 per person. Finer dining might set you back $10 each. And it’s a treat for the senses: delicately nuanced flavors in the artful balance between sweet, salty, spicy and sour, new ingredients and combinations or fragrance and taste to discover- it’s all a delight. I’ll take this one with us thanks to cooking lessons in Phuket.

whole fried fish, covered with a green papaya salad and cashews. OMG

It’s affordable. Shipping things from overseas isn’t (high customs fees are unavoidable – they don’t fly with the “yacht in transit” duty exemption), but local prices are good, and local wages are low. So although we had to pay full retail for the parts from Spectra for our watermaker (ouch), the very low labor rates kept the overall servicing of our device far lower than it could have been in many other countries. Treats like a restaurant dinner ando everyday things, like a taxi ride or a ticket to the movies, are relatively inexpensive.

delicious pizza in Chalong, run by a couple of Italian guys. yes please! (note the HUGE table of cruising kids)

We get to indulge in imported goodies. Thanks to the large expat population in Phuket, passing through Thailand has given us better access to familiar foods since we left Australia in 2012. Now, we do love to eat local style, but tastes from home are important too. I went way over budget on cheeses, cured meats, and treat like brussels sprouts or endive or granola from Makro. And I like knowing we’ll have enough balsamic vinegar and olive oil to get us to South Africa now.

fine camembert at sundowners brought to you by Makro. not sure we saw the green flash but it was fun trying

It’s accessible. With relatively inexpensive international flights and a well-greased skid for tourism into Phuket, we’ve had visitors FOUR times while we were in Phuket. Unprecedented! I miss family so much sometimes, but here, we’ve had both my brother and his family come for Christmas in 2013, and my cousin and her husband spend part of their honeymoon with us this month. Good friends Dan and Hyo joined us for fun in the sun too. It means so much to us to have special people like this visit. We know it’s not easy. And it’s pretty fantastic that the relative accessibility of Thailand helps make this possible.

Hyo’s here!

 

Dan’s here!

There’s beautiful underwater life to be found. I don’t want to overplay it, because mostly it’s terrible: the waters here are overfished, and the reefs are not well. But: it was VASTLY better than anything we saw in the rest of 2014 in Malaysia, and there were some stunning spots.

beautiful, and totally unexpected, display of fans at a poitn in Koh Muk

 

sinister scorpion fish in the Similans

The cruisers! Sure, we love to get off the beaten track. But we like to socialize, too. I mean, we really like to socialize! And since Thailand is a seasonal hub for cruisers, it’s easy to cross tracks with cruising friends. With a little advance planning, we had every kid boat in the watery neighborhood hanging out and having fun in Koh Phayam for Christmas. We’ve made lasting memories with great friends- from Strawberry Monkey Yacht Club hazing initiation at the wayward hippie bar, to long walks and lazy beach days on Koh Phayam, diving in the marine park Islands, crazy nights in Patong, and shoes-optional beach dinners in Chalong.

sunset drinks on Koh Lipe with my good friend Cathy

beach games on Koh Phayam with Utopia

There’s actually SAILING to be done. Yes, we live on a sailboat. But for more than two years, we’ve been in often windless in the tropics. There are no trades here, just seasonal monsoons which seem to mostly translate into a) not enough wind to sail in or b) almost enough but it’s on the nose or c) whoa, that’s a big squall, not sailing again! But here, we’ve had some epic days where we could turn off the engine and just put away miles listening to water gurgle past the hull. It’s a tall glass of water in the desert.

racing, I mean sailing in company, with Kittani en route to Koh Phayam

 

Why would we ever leave? It’s not all roses. Next post: what I really won’t miss about Thailand.

Savvy sailors know we love it when you click through to read this on the SAILfeed site- thanks for tossing change in our cruising kitty!

MARINE LIGHTNING PROTECTION: Getting Z-Z-Z-Zapped on a Sailboat

Tue, 2015-01-27 23:53

I have to admit I don’t normally think about this too much. As is true of many sailors I suspect, I have subscribed to the philosophy that lightning and its effects are so random and poorly understood that you can get royally screwed no matter what you try to do about it. Which is a great predicate, of course, to going into denial and doing nothing at all. But the death in Florida last summer of Noah Cullen, a most promising young man who presumably was killed in a lightning strike while out singlehanding on his pocket cruiser, got me pondering this in a more deliberate manner. On doing some research, I found there are some hard facts out there that are well worth knowing.

Much of what we tend to learn about lightning is anecdotal, which mostly serves to make it seem more mysterious. I, for example, have never been struck by lightning, but I did once cut through some severe thunder squalls in the Gulf Stream in a grounded fiberglass boat and saw a bolt of lightning the size of a large tree trunk flash straight into the water just a few yards behind us. I can’t begin to tell you why it didn’t hit our nice 55-foot aluminum mast, and ever since then I’ve believed a strike is pretty much an act of God. It’s either going to get you, or not, and there’s nothing you can really do about it.

I have met a number of sailors who have been struck by lightning, mostly in grounded boats, and in every case they told me they lost all their electronics. So I have also always assumed there is nothing you can really do to protect installed electronics from a lightning strike.

But you should forget all the anecdotes you ever heard, at least temporarily, and think about the following:

Likelihood of a strike: It’s probably much higher than you like to think. One source states that a sailboat with a 50-foot mast will on average be struck once every 11.2 years. According to insurance data, the general average for all boats is about 1.2 strikes per 1,000 boats each year.  The average bill for damage is around $20,000. Most strikes are on sailboats (4 strikes per 1,000 sailboats each year). And these are likely lowball numbers, as it seems many lightning-strike victims are not insured or do not report the strikes to their insurers. According to one independent survey, unreported strikes could be as high as 50 percent of the total.

Location is also a big factor. Some areas, including very popular cruising grounds like Florida or Chesapeake Bay, are much more lightning-prone than others, and you are obviously much more likely to get struck when sailing within them. The overall average for reported lightning strikes on boats in Florida, for example, is 3.3 strikes per 1,000 boats each year, nearly three times the national average.

Map showing lightning strike probabilities around the world. The higher the number, the higher the probability

Interestingly, catamarans overall apparently are struck twice as often as monohulls. Could this be because they are effectively twice as much boat???

Preventing a strike: It really isn’t possible. There is no technology that can positively keep your boat from being hit. There’s seems to be little evidence, for example, that those silly little masthead bottle brushes some people put up are good for anything.

Spectacular image of a sailboat getting hit in Rushcutter’s Bay in Sydney Harbor, Australia, with inset images showing damage to the mast. Lots of other targets with masts around, so why did the bolt hit this one boat?

Limiting damage: This is where the action is. To paraphrase one writer: it is a fallacy to think in terms of “lightning protection.” What you want is “lightning control.” Which definitely means grounding your boat! An ungrounded boat is much more likely to suffer potentially disastrous damage when struck (i.e., holes in the hull, dead crew, etc.). A boat in fresh water is also much more vulnerable, because fresh water doesn’t conduct electricity as well as salt water. An ungrounded boat in fresh water is most vulnerable of all. If you’re on one of these during a strike, you may as well just forget about it and put a cap in your head.

Typical exit damage around an anchor well drain on a fiberglass boat. Hull damage just above the waterline is not at all unusual

Grounding your boat: The old school notion of leading a big copper strip from the base of your mast in a straight line to a single grounding plate on your hull is the process of being discarded in favor of a more sophisticated technique that connects the mast as primary conductor to a network of dissipating electrodes installed just above a boat’s waterline, the idea being in effect to make all of the boat’s hull something like a Faraday cage, so that the equipment and people within will be safer.

Example of a more modern grounding system

Note (I was particularly gratified to learn this): a metal hull is indeed a great ground, and the fact that it is painted, or coated in epoxy, or whatever, doesn’t change this. But you can still suffer significant damage on a metal boat!

Bonding: You and the gear on your boat are more likely to survive a strike without damage if the major bits of metal on your boat are bonded to the grounding system. This reduces the likelihood of dangerous side flashes. (It does, however, create complications with respect to the potential for galvanic corrosion on a boat.)

Saving electronics: First of all, stowing handheld electronics (or any disconnected electronics) in your oven will protect them during a strike. Just remember to take them out again before using the oven!

More importantly, you can protect installed electronics using various individual surge protectors, fancy spiral wiring, and other techniques I’m not going to pretend to understand, much less explain. See the sources below for more details.

Your personal safety: This should be most important, right? You want to stay off the helm if possible, stay below, stay dry, and don’t touch any big pieces of metal. All of which are easier said than done when you’re in the middle of a big squall! It would seem the most prudent tactic is severely reduce sail, or take it all down, pop the boat on autopilot, and get below well in advance of and after a thunderstorm.

SOURCES

Lightning and Sailboats: Academic paper published by Ewen M. Thomson, currently recognized as the most well-informed go-to guy on this subject.

Marine Lightning Protection: Website for a business run by Ewen Thomson (see above), who is a pioneer in modern cage-style boat-grounding techniques. Thomson will ground and bond your boat for you, if you like, but there’s also lots of useful raw info in here.

Lightning Survey Results: Discussion re results of a small independent online lightning-strike survey conducted by a cruiser who owns a power-cat named Domino. Very informative.

Considerations for Lightning Protection: Conclusions reached post-survey by the owner of Domino, referenced above.

Lessons in Lightning: Ocean Navigator article by a cruiser in an aluminum boat who was struck by lightning in the Baltic. Of particular interest to those (like myself) who own aluminum boats.

There are lots of other resources out there, but these four links are a very good place to start. You’ll find many other valuable sources just by reading through these articles and following the links within.

MARINE LIGHTNING PROTECTION: Getting Z-Z-Z-Zapped on a Sailboat

Tue, 2015-01-27 23:53

I have to admit I don’t normally think about this too much. As is true of many sailors I suspect, I have subscribed to the philosophy that lightning and its effects are so random and poorly understood that you can get royally screwed no matter what you try to do about it. Which is a great predicate, of course, to going into denial and doing nothing at all. But the death in Florida last summer of Noah Cullen, a most promising young man who presumably was killed in a lightning strike while out singlehanding on his pocket cruiser, got me pondering this in a more deliberate manner. On doing some research, I found there are some hard facts out there that are well worth knowing.

Much of what we tend to learn about lightning is anecdotal, which mostly serves to make it seem more mysterious. I, for example, have never been struck by lightning, but I did once cut through some severe thunder squalls in the Gulf Stream in a grounded fiberglass boat and saw a bolt of lightning the size of a large tree trunk flash straight into the water just a few yards behind us. I can’t begin to tell you why it didn’t hit our nice 55-foot aluminum mast, and ever since then I’ve believed a strike is pretty much an act of God. It’s either going to get you, or not, and there’s nothing you can really do about it.

I have met a number of sailors who have been struck by lightning, mostly in grounded boats, and in every case they told me they lost all their electronics. So I have also always assumed there is nothing you can really do to protect installed electronics from a lightning strike.

But you should forget all the anecdotes you ever heard, at least temporarily, and think about the following:

Likelihood of a strike: It’s probably much higher than you like to think. One source states that a sailboat with a 50-foot mast will on average be struck once every 11.2 years. According to insurance data, the general average for all boats is about 1.2 strikes per 1,000 boats each year.  The average bill for damage is around $20,000. Most strikes are on sailboats (4 strikes per 1,000 sailboats each year). And these are likely lowball numbers, as it seems many lightning-strike victims are not insured or do not report the strikes to their insurers. According to one independent survey, unreported strikes could be as high as 50 percent of the total.

Location is also a big factor. Some areas, including very popular cruising grounds like Florida or Chesapeake Bay, are much more lightning-prone than others, and you are obviously much more likely to get struck when sailing within them. The overall average for reported lightning strikes on boats in Florida, for example, is 3.3 strikes per 1,000 boats each year, nearly three times the national average.

Map showing lightning strike probabilities around the world. The higher the number, the higher the probability

Interestingly, catamarans overall apparently are struck twice as often as monohulls. Could this be because they are effectively twice as much boat???

Preventing a strike: It really isn’t possible. There is no technology that can positively keep your boat from being hit. There’s seems to be little evidence, for example, that those silly little masthead bottle brushes some people put up are good for anything.

Spectacular image of a sailboat getting hit in Rushcutter’s Bay in Sydney Harbor, Australia, with inset images showing damage to the mast. Lots of other targets with masts around, so why did the bolt hit this one boat?

Limiting damage: This is where the action is. To paraphrase one writer: it is a fallacy to think in terms of “lightning protection.” What you want is “lightning control.” Which definitely means grounding your boat! An ungrounded boat is much more likely to suffer potentially disastrous damage when struck (i.e., holes in the hull, dead crew, etc.). A boat in fresh water is also much more vulnerable, because fresh water doesn’t conduct electricity as well as salt water. An ungrounded boat in fresh water is most vulnerable of all. If you’re on one of these during a strike, you may as well just forget about it and put a cap in your head.

Typical exit damage around an anchor well drain on a fiberglass boat. Hull damage just above the waterline is not at all unusual

Grounding your boat: The old school notion of leading a big copper strip from the base of your mast in a straight line to a single grounding plate on your hull is the process of being discarded in favor of a more sophisticated technique that connects the mast as primary conductor to a network of dissipating electrodes installed just above a boat’s waterline, the idea being in effect to make all of the boat’s hull something like a Faraday cage, so that the equipment and people within will be safer.

Example of a more modern grounding system

Note (I was particularly gratified to learn this): a metal hull is indeed a great ground, and the fact that it is painted, or coated in epoxy, or whatever, doesn’t change this. But you can still suffer significant damage on a metal boat!

Bonding: You and the gear on your boat are more likely to survive a strike without damage if the major bits of metal on your boat are bonded to the grounding system. This reduces the likelihood of dangerous side flashes. (It does, however, create complications with respect to the potential for galvanic corrosion on a boat.)

Saving electronics: First of all, stowing handheld electronics (or any disconnected electronics) in your oven will protect them during a strike. Just remember to take them out again before using the oven!

More importantly, you can protect installed electronics using various individual surge protectors, fancy spiral wiring, and other techniques I’m not going to pretend to understand, much less explain. See the sources below for more details.

Your personal safety: This should be most important, right? You want to stay off the helm if possible, stay below, stay dry, and don’t touch any big pieces of metal. All of which are easier said than done when you’re in the middle of a big squall! It would seem the most prudent tactic is severely reduce sail, or take it all down, pop the boat on autopilot, and get below well in advance of and after a thunderstorm.

SOURCES

Lightning and Sailboats: Academic paper published by Ewen M. Thomson, currently recognized as the most well-informed go-to guy on this subject.

Marine Lightning Protection: Website for a business run by Ewen Thomson (see above), who is a pioneer in modern cage-style boat-grounding techniques. Thomson will ground and bond your boat for you, if you like, but there’s also lots of useful raw info in here.

Lightning Survey Results: Discussion re results of a small independent online lightning-strike survey conducted by a cruiser who owns a power-cat named Domino. Very informative.

Considerations for Lightning Protection: Conclusions reached post-survey by the owner of Domino, referenced above.

Lessons in Lightning: Ocean Navigator article by a cruiser in an aluminum boat who was struck by lightning in the Baltic. Of particular interest to those (like myself) who own aluminum boats.

There are lots of other resources out there, but these four links are a very good place to start. You’ll find many other valuable sources just by reading through these articles and following the links within.

Liza Copeland

Tue, 2015-01-27 00:00

Listen now!

Andy sat down in person with Liza Copeland at the Toronto Boat Show not too long ago. In fact, they shared a booth alongside Paul & Sheryl Shard, who were all part of the seminar program at the show. Liza has sold an astounding number of her books, all about the cruising lifestyle, which has made her a household name in the sailing world. She first circumnavigated with her young family aboard a production Beneteau, and has since sailed over 100,000 miles in that boat, called ‘Bagheera.’

Andy & Liza discussed how she got into cruising and what it’s like saiing around the world with a family! This is truly an inspiring episode for anyone thinking of sailing with kids (Andy met her son at the show, who’s now a successful airline pilot – and still a sailor!). 

You can find Liza’s books online at aboutcruising.com.

Want to go ocean sailing with Andy? Book a berth for the Canadian Maritimes this summer and the Caribbean 1500 next fall at 59-north.com/events.

Cuba – Get Your Information Here…

Mon, 2015-01-26 16:55

Ok, I know I promised details on what it’s like to actually cruise in Cuba for this post, and we’ll get to that shortly, but first…

I attended a seminar on cruising in Cuba last week given by someone I expected would know what the current situation was. I was sorely disappointed – the information was incorrect in ways that would cause an American traveling in Cuba a great deal of inconvenience.
I’ve built my career as a writer and journalist on the basis of being accurate, because that’s what my readers expect of me, and in that spirit, a few of the errors I saw last week need to be addressed.

For starters, this speaker insisted that US credit cards are usable right now, today. That’s not the case at all.

Mastercard announced on Friday that it would begin accepting American cardholders’ credit charges in Cuba starting March 1. American Express is still evaluating the situation, and deciding “how we would operate if we choose to do so.” Visa has not commented publicly on the question as yet.
Mastercard’s press release noted that “cardholders should contact them before visiting Cuba to make sure their card will function on the island.”
In other words, nothing is sure on this question other than that, at this moment in time, US credit cards do not work in Cuba.

The situation regarding debit cards is unknown, but I’m making enquiries and will advise you here of what I find out. In the meantime, if you do travel to Cuba – bring cash. In fact, to use VISA’s old marketing tagline: Don’t leave home without it!

Bringing your dog or cat to Cuba? Make sure you have a current rabies certificate, and a health certificate dated within five days – one site does say ten, but it should be very recent in any case.
Those are the rules, as given online in any number of sites, by the Cuban embassy in Ottawa Canada and in my experience traveling there with my own WonderPuppy® Aduana, who was born in Varadero Cuba.
However, this speaker insisted that one only needed the rabies certificate, even after I challenged that statement. Imagine arriving in Cuba and having to put your dog in quarantine because you don’t have the right documents. Or worse yet, having to return to the US because there really is no way to properly quarantine your dog in Cuba that the average American pet owner would find acceptable. Just how egregious was this error? No less than the International Air Transport Association (http://www.iatatravelcentre.com/CU-Cuba-customs-currency-airport-tax-regulations-details.htm) backs me up on this. See also http://www.pettravelassociates.com/countries/cuba

The seminar suggested that you can carry 7.5 feet draft in Cuba. Well, sure, if all you’re doing is going offshore from harbour to harbour. If you’re going inside the reefs to explore the cays and small villages, the best part of a Cuba voyage – anything over 6 feet is going to cause you trouble. A quick perusal of current charts demonstrates that – such as this chartlet from Nigel Calder’s Cruising Guide to Cuba, of the Cayo Levisa area to the west of Havana.

This four hour seminar also did not discuss many of what I believe are vital topics if you are going to safely cruise Cuban waters. To give one example, there is the importance of the sticks and stakes used by Cuban fishermen to mark safe passages inshore, as shown here.

If you don’t understand what these are, and how to make use of them, or even where to find where they are since they aren’t marked on official charts, it’s not safe for you to be exploring beyond Marina Hemingway or Varadero. That means you’ll miss out on the best parts of the Cuban cruising experience.

In summary, everyone wants to talk about Cuba – but not everyone should be. There is a lot of misinformation being spread about Cuba right now in the excitement of current events, and that’s wrong. I promise you, it won’t be happening here.
If I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll say so and then find out. In other words, what you read here on cruising in Cuba will be accurate. So with that promise to you in hand….

What is Cruising in Cuba Really Like?

In a word, it’s great! Cuba offers so much to those willing to go beyond the few marinas easily reached from the US. There are hundreds of great anchorages, spaced so that you can daysail from one to the next, anchor up and explore, and move on to the next one. If you’re sailing east to west, you can take advantage of both the current and the prevailing easterly winds.
The distance from the reefs to the inshore areas is typically not that great, but it can be quite challenging as in all but the major harbours, there are few, if any, markers. This is not an area for greenhorns – you must be able to navigate using your eyeballs, a chart, and be able to comprehend the chartlets and plans in Nigel Calder’s Cruising Guide to Cuba – a book which is an absolute must have.
Staring at a chartplotter is a recipe for disaster. At a minimum, you should have Coastal Navigation (or comparable) training and be comfortable with piloting using ranges made up of mountain peaks, or a palm tree against the edge of an island. If something that looks like this:

is more than you can handle, you have no business being in Cuba on a boat until you can. There is no towboat service in Cuba if you get it wrong…you are entirely on your own here.

But that’s the joy of cruising in Cuba – it’s not easy, it’s not cookie cutter cruising, it’s challenging, it’s different and it’s very rewarding in every imaginable way.
More on cruising and sailing in Cuba in my next Sailfeed post….in the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what Havana looks like while sailing past at sunrise…

Digigone DigiMed telemedicine kits & more Pittman Innovation Award winners

Mon, 2015-01-26 09:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 26, 2015 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Sail’s 2015 Pittman Innovation Awards were just announced and one of several interesting winners is a series of DigiMed wireless kits that work with Digigone’s existing telemedicine service. Even the smallest DigiMed Mini above can teleconnect you to a 24/7 emergency medical center via Android tablet and Bluetooth headset and I’ve seen how the included wireless macro camera allows the experts to examine the victim down to skin pore level…

I first saw the DigiMed tablet and camera system demonstrated last February in Miami and in 2013 Digigone set me up with the bandwidth-efficient SecureChat video chat software and compression service that’s behind all their products. I saw usable two-way chat video passing through my PC at an impressively measly 60 Kbps, though it makes sense that Digigone recommends a minimum of 150 Kbps for telemedicine. But that bandwidth is usually easy via cell phone these days and, more relevant to boats out in blue water or exotic locales, it should work fine with a small Inmarsat FB150 satellite system. In fact, a DigiMed system would pair very nicely with the new LinkWav Inmarsat service because LinkWav lets you easily switch up to unlimited service minutes if the situation demands it.

Digigone has gone a little wild with the “Digi” moniker so what used to be SecureChat is now called DigiChat and the extended version that is displaying electrocardiogram and other sensor data on the tablet above is called DigiMed Consult. That’s the medium-size DigiMed Vital kit above and the top-of-the-line DigiMed Plus sitting on the floor of the Fort Lauderdale press room below. Yes, I received various diagnostic tests like an ECG and had the macro camera looking closely at my eyeball, all with wireless tools that are all charged and ready to go when the kit is opened. We did not complete the connection with the 24/7 GWU Maritime Medical Access center in Baltimore MD, but that facility’s over-20-year history serving commercial vessels looks impressive to me. The costs of the DigiMed kit, Digigone service contract, and MMA service contract all add up but I think the total is still reasonable compared to similar ship services and it’s great to see the various technologies shrinking in size while getting easier to use.

The Pittman Innovation Awards should be of interest to all boaters though some categories are pretty specific to sailing. This is one of the only marine awards programs where the judges can nominate candidates (though manufacturers can also suggest their products to Sail). We don’t get to see product demos together like the NMMA Innovation Awards at the Miami and IBEX shows, but the five category judges spend a lot of time on email and conference calls comparing notes and arguing the merits of personal favorites. So you’ll see our names on our category write-ups but know we made the decisions together.

In fact, the Iridium Go app screen below illustrates a long call I had with cruising-category judge Charlie Doane in which we confirmed that using a smartphone with Iridium GO can sound as good if not better than using an actual Iridium phone. (I feel major guilt for not yet completing full reviews of GO and Globalstar SatFi, but it will happen soon I swear.) At any rate, congratulations to Iridium, Digigone, Garmin, B&G, Furuno, Nobeltec, BoatLogger and the others for their Pittman Innovation awards.

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

Finding and Fixing Dinghies

Sun, 2015-01-25 18:48

“Do you feel like checking out some sailing dinghies this weekend?” asked Erik.
“Sure,” I said. “Sounds fun.”
“Great. They’re in an old container down at the dock; someone abandoned them years ago.”
I looked up. “Abandoned” is usually a deadly adjective for a boat.
“It’s all supposed to be in pretty bad shape.” he continued. “The sails are probably going to be full of rat poop, and who knows if anything will still float.”
“Boy, Erik, why didn’t you lead with that? You know I can’t resist a rusty old container full of broken boat parts.”
“And rat poop,” he added.
“Yes, don’t forget the rat poop.”

So off we went on Sunday morning. The container was better than I expected. Yes, the promised rat droppings were everywhere, but a neighbour has been storing his kayaks in there, too, so the place wasn’t as sad and forsaken as previously advertised.

Erik quickly located the ownerless dinghies, and we dragged them out for a wash.

Rinse completed, the girls instantly took possession of the green dinghy and went for a paddle.

Meanwhile, Erik befriended a man putting his canoe into the water beside us. Twenty seconds later, Erik was paddling away.

Happy, happy happy.

Soon the kayaks were out, washed and in the water, too.

But this was all too easy. When Indy and I got back from our jaunt, we noticed the stern of our kayak was full of water. Unsurprisingly, there was a bung missing. A quick survey of the container didn’t turn up a spare, so Erik and Indy did the next best thing: they made one out of a water bottle lid and masking tape.

Perfect.

As Stylish paddled around and Indy doused everyone with the hose, we turned to more serious matters, ie. rigging the dinghies. We assembled all of the gear we could find, and discovered that, between the three masts, two booms and various stays, shrouds and blocks, we had enough rigging for the white dinghy. Mostly.

Unfortunately, there is a small hole in the hull, so I see some fibreglassing in our future.

The sails were another matter. The rats had gone to town, and, being a discerning sort of beast, had preferentially munched their way through the best sails first.

“Well, that’s no problem,” said Erik. “We have six sails to work with. We’ll just scavenge material from these sails to fix those ones. Someone around here must have a sewing machine.”
I counted up the rips and holes. One, two… seven, eight… thirteen… “I don’t know, Of course we can do it, but it is going to take hours. And once we leave, you know the sails will go back in the container, be forgotten and get eaten all over again.”
Erik looked momentarily discouraged. Then, like a true cruiser, he shook it off. “Meh, I want to do it anyway.”
I nodded. I kind of wanted to fix it up, too.

So we cleaned the sails and brought them home to dry. It looks like we have a new weekend project.

A New Tall Ship: Mission Not Impossible

Sun, 2015-01-25 12:26

No one could have guaranteed the success of the Matthew Turner project, taking shape quite nicely along the shoreline of Sausalito, California.

But the Call of the Sea, which now serves 5,000 people annually, most of them youth, is over-subscribed.

The Matthew Turner — is needed. KL

CLEAT OF THE YEAR AWARD: Antal’s Sexy New Super-Handy Roller Cleat

Fri, 2015-01-23 17:35

I don’t know if you guys have noticed or not, but deck-cleat technology, once a mundane and very static science, has become increasingly sophisticated in the last few years. Most developments have swirled around the concept of the retractable cleat, which are increasingly common on new boats I see at shows. Their utilitarian justification is that they won’t catch working lines or wandering toes when you’re sailing and/or strolling about on deck. Which is a worthy attribute. But in a world where designers are trying to make sailboats look more and more like sleek out-of-this-world spaceships, with as little evidence of working parts on their decks as possible, it would seem these cleats are also part of a larger not-necessarily-functional nautical fashion trend.

Frankly, I’ve always been a little suspicious of retractable cleats. It bothers me a lot that the load-bearing portion of the structure is a moving part. To me this implies vulnerability. Also, they obviously will still catch lines and toes when they are busy being cleats.

Example of a typical retractable cleat

Example of a sailboat that wants very hard to look like it has no cleats at all. (You know they’d 86 those winches if they could!)

All of which is why I was very pleased to learn that Antal’s new Roller Cleat (see image up top) has been unanimously selected as this year’s Cleat of the Year. The cool thing about these cleats is they can quickly be transformed with a flick of your wrist from a conventional easy-to-get-a-line-around open-horned cleat to a pair of closed fairleads that, like a retractable cleat, can’t catch lines or toes. Better yet, you can effect this transformation when the cleat is already loaded with a line, so they become inoffensive to stray working lines and toes while still doing their jobs as cleats.

I find it very reassuring that the load-bearing portion of the Roller Cleat is a fixed part. I also think they look pretty slick when closed. Not as de minimis, obviously, as a retracted retractable cleat, but I am highly skeptical of this sailboat-as-spaceship style trend and actually prefer to have my deck hardware accessible and in plain view. All this gear-under-the-deck business, it seems to me, is nothing but a potential source of trouble.

What’s also cool is that, when closed, you can use the Roller Cleat as a Panama fairlead. These get their name from the closed leads and chocks you typically like to have onboard when locking through the Panama Canal (or any canal, for that matter), where you often have working dock (or lock) lines running at variable angles, including steep raised angles above the fairlead, as the water level in a lock changes. Such fairleads, of course, are also generally useful in any situation where you need to secure a boat to a structure that is higher than the boat’s deck.

Example of a Panama fairlead, as used on large ships

Example of a regular fairlead that has been transformed into a Panama fairlead through the addition of what is known as a Panama plate

Arguably, of course, a retractable cleat such as the one pictured above could also be used as Panama fairlead, but ultimately it looks much less suitable, don’t you think? I mean, damn, the thing appears to have sharp edges. Also, you can get a line through a Roller Cleat without having to actually lead the bitter end through the fairlead, kind of like a snatch-fairlead.

Again, very cool.

Not coincidentally, I gave the Roller Cleat a big thumb’s up in my capacity as Cruising Judge in SAIL’s annual Freeman K. Pittman Innovation Awards. You can check out my other picks and all the other FKP winners right here.

Future Sailing: His Name Is Paul

Thu, 2015-01-22 19:41

By Kimball Livingston Posted January 22, 2015

What would you do if you were the fastest sailor on water?

(Soft water.)

If you were coming off eleven years of obsessed design/build/test/fail/win and when you finally were a winner it was not by a smidgen, no, a winner by a country mile, a winner by a revolution, you could go away and stare at the trees for a while. Wait for a butterfly to flutter by. Read a book about anything but boats, aerodynamics, hydraulic drag. Take a little hike in the Antarctic. Maybe even think, never again.

It was more or less like that for Paul Larsen, whose absolute speed record looks secure for a while to come. That would be 65.45 knots at 500 meters, 55.32 at one nautical mile, with more in the bank if somebody wants to exploit, as Larsen puts it, “an ideal platform to develop the next generation of high speed foils.”

Now, Paul Larsen has had his break, and the hormones are pumping again. He’s back in the kitchen, cooking up something he thinks will leapfrog every other technology in ocean sailing and: “Now I have a project that’s ten times as complex.”

On the Gitana team, Sébastien Josse is keen to put an ocean-going trimaran, a Multi 70, on foils? Fine.

Good ole Hydroptere has a Transpac course record shot in the offing? Fine.

Larsen wants to land like a mission to Mars. Or maybe from Mars. Nothing should be the same after.

If the guy next door started talking like this, I might back away, ever so slowly, smiling, nodding . . .

But Paul Larsen? He’s people.

Here’s the rub: Larsen can’t go forward without going deep into electronics and, “I hate electronics,” he says. But there is the issue of speed at sea versus human response times, and so, “This path with electronics is inevitable. I’ve watched Richard Jenkins send out drones with wings controlled by tiny servos, and that’s the future. We can’t have someone sitting all night with three turns on the winch” waiting to blow the sheet in a puff. Not when, “For twenty quid, you’ve got these incredible microprocessors in your hand.” And those microprocessors can be programmed to respond instantly to a sudden change in the angle of heel. For example. Before a human could even think to slip a line.

We talked via skype. Beyond the man and his computer was the wing of the scale model he’s building of his long-distance sailing contraption, and he related with a hoot and a grin how all three floors of the house were littered with boat parts. Of course. Aussie by birth, Larsen lives now in Weymouth, England, one of the speed sailing capitals of the world. I met the man years ago in, of all places, Doha, Qatar, as he was prepping for a race around the world. Even amid the splendors of a Middle East hotel lobby favored by the ruling Al Thani family, he had the aura of a guy with a house full of boat parts.

My kind of people.

So now we have the sailing speed record holder telling us he can achieve a revolution in ocean sailing, and one of his problems is parallel to what Harbor Wing Technologies was exploring as it worked up a program for an unmanned observation/reconnaissance trimaran. They made it as far as a working prototype powered by a wing and fully managed by electronics. One of the points made by Harbor Wing is that a fully-feathered wing, separated into vertical sections, presents less drag than a bare mast. Larsen agrees except, “Having a wing up full-time, offshore, when you add pitching and rolling, is a complicated conversation. Still, once you’ve worked with a wing, it’s hard to go back to a soft sail. It’s addictive, the way you can control inputs.”

Sailrocket 3, the record setter — representing eleven years of try and try again — was a bet on a concept of opposing forces first imagined by a fellow named Bernard Smith in a book titled, The 40-Knot Sailboat.

Smith was good at imagining.

Larsen hammered out the track-worthy version, and now he’s on fire to produce something that will be, not just a record setter, but transformational. The Sailrockets were good for going one direction only, and early versions tried pretty hard to kill the pilot.

“I had wondered what would fill the void beyond Sailrocket,” he says, “but I’ve virtually forgotten speed sailing now. There’s an empty space in sailing waiting to be filled, and I’m pretty sure I can do it. I’m not going to build another scream-reacher. I’ve done that.”

Larsen envisions a record-capable ocean-going boat that “wouldn’t be sitting, waiting for a weather window. We want to be able to get through the light stuff too. Anything we design has to be suitable for converting to foils, but if you design specifically for foils you’re making compromises. And there’s a lot of stuff out there to hit.

“At the end of the day, it’s about getting rid of drag.”

But what the heck is it? Sorry. For all his urges to blab to the world, he’s not.

“The first person to win a Route du Rhum with this will get credit for it.”

And he wants that person to be named Paul Larsen.

So, you didn’t quite read it here.

P.S. There is a journo who rode in Sailrocket 3 and wrote about it for Wired. For a slightly dated read, but a darned good read, here is Adam Fisher

…and this week in International Epoxy News

Thu, 2015-01-22 14:40
This, apparently, is a current image of the gold funerary mask of King Tutankhamun:   Source:Al Araby Al Jadeed

 The story goes that a cleaner at the museum was spiffing up the mask when they managed to knock its beard off (or, in another version, the beard was intentionally removed because it was loose). Then, in a classic case of sidestepping, the head of the renovations team called her husband instead of the Ministry of Antiquities and asked him to fix it. Supposedly, he’s also a ‘renovator.’ Whatever that means. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s never read the West System Use Guides or my last post on Epoxy Hints. Allegedly the husband decided to repair the 21″ tall ancient gold artifact by gooping the beard up with epoxy and sticking it back. Apparently more damage was done when squeeze out dried on the face of the mask and was later scraped off.

 Now I can’t speak to whether epoxy is the correct material for repairing ancient gold artifacts, but anyone who has done a little boatwork could have warned this this guy about squeeze out and explained that if he cleaned that epoxy up before it cured with a bit of acetone (or even white vinegar) he could save himself the scraping. Solid gold is pretty soft, after all. On the upside, it seems like the beard is now solidly affixed so at least we now know that epoxy provides a reasonably secure mechanical bond in gold to gold glue ups. Maybe someone can ask him about the prepping process? Do we need an etching primer, or can you just hit it (lightly) with an 80-grit disc on an angle grinder? I’m happy to do some experiments and report back if anyone wants to send a few gold bars my way.

King Tut’s mask in better days

Huffington Post story here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/21/king-tuts-mask-damaged_n_6520910.html
And the original (in Arabic): http://www.alaraby.co.uk/investigations/b8674bca-fccf-473c-a599-ce1cfb20daa5



Last days in Thailand

Wed, 2015-01-21 04:28

Cruising is hard work. Really. Our punch list to have Totem ready for the Indian Ocean is shrinking but it’s constant daily effort to track towards an end of month departure. Even when we’re relaxing, like those lazy weeks up in Koh Phayam, we’re not on vacation. I made this list of things Jamie did over the course of a few days while we lingered in the bay there:

  • -     cut hole in deck for inner forestay
  • -     cut six inches of 3/8 inch 316 SS plate from an overbuilt/oversized backing plate
  • -     install backing plate with some exceptionally messy butyl tape
  • -     re-splice dyneema inner forestay
  • -     connect solar panels (offline since arch was rebuilt at the shipyard)
  • -     field install connector for NMEA 2000 network GPS (getting aaaalll the little wires into an end: finicky work)
  • -     replace burned-out Caframo fan in forepeak

Relaxing is not so much relaxing lately.

But then we delayed our departure from Thailand a bit longer for the best possible reason: the chance for a visit from my cousin and her new husband, as the first stop on their honeymoon travels in Southeast Asia. With Maeve and Noel on board, we had a great break from the pressure.

They had a taste of the cruising life. Beautiful anchorages. Lugging provisions. Underwater exploring. Wicked cards. Gorgeous sunsets. Making plans based on the tide. Glorious sailing, interspersed with wind on the nose, or no sailing wind at all.

Maeve hooked 2/3 of our junior crew on rock climbing. Siobhan climbed a 5.9 that nearly stumped me. Niall got up a 5.10 at mountain goat speed. Suddenly I’m looking at the many atolls that sprinkle our 2015 route and thinking we should start researching climbs in Sri Lanka and Madagascar. Now.

In Koh Phi Phi the climbing bug (and a few annoying mosquitoes) bit at Ton Sai wall. We caught up with Delos, who we first shared an anchorage with back in Mexico in 2009; there was the funny bookshop lady who managed to rope us into setting up her shop.

In Koh Muk, we swam through a dark tunnel into the sky lit “room” of the emerald cave, and found breathtaking and unexpected life underwater.

 

New experiences, old friends, the stuff cruising is made of.

Back in Langkawi, we stare down the punch list again. At this point, it’s only “must-do” items that are chipped away at daily. We’ve begun some goodbyes, and started to do things “for the last time” here. It’s bittersweet, but it’s exciting all the same.

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