Our first cruising boat was a Hallberg-Rassy 352 named for the co-owner. “Andrea” didn’t mean anything to us, and we were eager to have a new name put a personal stamp on his boat that reflected our family.
Deliberations focused on avoiding common names, especially the common, the clichés (Second Wind), and the cutesy marine alliterations (Plan Sea). Ultimately, we put Mau Ke Mana on the stern. This Indonesian phrase is a common greeting I learned living in Bali many years ago, and literally translates as “where do you want to go?” This comes, of course, with a standard response: “jalan jalan,” or, “just walking.” Presto, perfect dinghy name! We were building up to the cruising life and thinking about where we wanted to go, so the name felt right with its nod to our past and our future.
We used to say that Mau Ke Mana was our practice boat for the transition from racers to cruisers: this was the boat that would help us learn new systems, and how to adjust our priorities and aesthetics to reflect our plans to live and travel afloat. Thank goodness for a practice run on the boat name, because we made some serious errors: Mau Ke Mana broke a few important rules we hadn’t considered.
People struggled to pronounce it. This made it difficult for us to be understood on the radio, and more challenging to be hailed by a boat that only saw or heard the name in passing. If we ever need to hail other stations for an emergency, I don’t want any misunderstanding about the name of the boat requesting assistance!
Besides being hard to say or recognize, nobody knew what it meant. Because it wasn’t easy to explain, it also wasn’t easy for others to remember. In the cruising community, nobody knows us as the Giffords. We are the Totems. When you are known not by your family name but by your boat name, it’s really nto a good idea to choose one that’s hard to remember or pronounce. You would think that having spent a lifetime with a name that requires spelling or pronouncing for every new person I meet that this might have occurred to me sooner.
When we bought our Stevens 47 a few years later, she was named Don’t Look Back, encapsulating the prior owner’s departure from a marriage and the USA. I liked the idea of sailing into the sunset, but the divorce baggage had no place on our floating home, and it was too long anyway. Time for another name! This would be at least her fourth, since we found ‘Menagerie’ and ‘Sirius’ in the boat’s paperwork as well.
This time, we thought more carefully about what would be short, simple, easily understood, and readily pronounced (including by non-English speakers). It’s easiest to make the legal change of a boat’s name during a purchase transaction, so we were under a crunch to come up with one in the early weeks of 2006.
One afternoon, Jamie called me from work and just said: “I’ve got it!” As soon as he said Totem, it felt right. It was succinct. It was easy to say. Most importantly of all, it felt meaningful: Totem would look out for us, just as totem spirits do from native traditions in our home waters of the Salish Sea. It was rooted in where we were from, and would take us where we wanted to go. Done. Our new home, the vessel of our hopes and dreams, would be named Totem.
A quick search of boat names in the registry of USCG documented boats only showed a couple of others with ‘Totem’ in the name, and they were fishing boats in Alaska. We didn’t need the clincher, but it reinforced the choice for our boat name, our new family name. Ultimately, it’s that personal connection that has to feel right- whatever rules you decide to follow or ignore.
Curious about totem’s Haida-style orca logo? see this blog post if you’re curious about Totem’s totem, designed for us by our friend- and former cruising kid- Korum Bischoff.
Sorry if I’m the last one to see this – it’s a few years old – but holy %$#@! This guy (Captain Raf, apparently) handled it very well:
America’s Cup racing rang enough bells to become part of the Nova program, Making Things Fast, that runs Wednesday evening, October 16, on PBS. Dirk Kramers, engineer and design executive for Oracle Team USA, is the go-to guy for David Pogue as Nova explores the techniques and implications of moving humans and machines ever faster. Pogue asks, “Is it possible to go too fast? Have we hit a point where innovation outpaces our ability to keep up?”
Recognizing an opportunity for a conversation with Dirk, I interrupted his packing up post-America’s Cup 34—goodbye, Tiburon CA, hello Newport RI and home—to talk foils and wings and boats and how dramatically the America’s Cup catamarans made leeway. “From a helicopter,” Kramers said, “you’re really struck by it.”
And leeway factors into the entire “flying” equation.
About a million years ago, Emirates Team New Zealand set out testing standard C-shaped foils on Morrelli & Melvin-designed 33-foot catamarans with elevators added to the rudders. The result was a lifting force equal to about 50 percent of displacement, but M&M’s Pete Melvin (also a designer of the AC72 rule and of the Kiwi AC72) pointed out in a separate conversation that, “C-foils are locked in to a narrow range of lift.”
L-foils came next, with the discovery that they would lift dramatically and produce a burst of speed (Melvin again: “We asked ourselves, how can we bottle this?”) but with that success you had less of the daggerboard shaft in the water, and less resistance to leeway, and with increased leeway came a shift in the flow over the horizontal foil that brought the whole shebang crashing DOWN.
Next from the experiments of the Kiwi designers came the V-foil, with the lifting foil angled up. If you want to sound like an engineer, throw in the word dihedral, the angle between two intersecting planes. Employing a curved board, you can set a working/sailing angle up from horizontal, though when it’s lifted the eye sees it as horizontal to the surface. With a straight board, you can achieve the same goal with a pronounced dihedral. If you remember the images of AC45s flying on San Francisco Bay in the summer of 2012, you know where Oracle was able to come in.
Kramers recalled, “With that configuration, leeway causes moderate loss of lift instead of complete loss of lift.” In this environment, that translates to stability. “All of us on all the teams spent a lot of time trying to hit the ideal compromise,” Kramers said. “The more extreme the dihedral, the more stable the ride, but the downside is more drag. The better your control system, the more you can afford to lower the drag. Angles, twists, radii—it’s a search for a combination.” Speaking of better control systems, and historic comebacks, note the dihedral difference in this final-day shot by Daniel Forster compared to the crane shot from earlier in the season.
The concepts aren’t new, but the application of intense R&D? You betcha.
“At 50 knots apparent, you stumble upon the side effects,” Kramers said. “You want a clean undercarriage, and even bodies on deck become a big deal in terms of windage.
“Another thing—for the Cup we were allowed three sails up front, but it wasn’t like ordinary sailing where you’re looking to carry the biggest sail possible. It was a game of how little sail you could get away with.”
OK, Dirk, I know you want to get out the door, but what about this whole pitch-control system on the 2013 boats? Dihedral foils on the bottoms of canting, raking, elevating daggerboards with fixed winglets to push against. What do we get if the next design rule, for whatever size boat, erases the prohibition on trimmable winglets?
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen, and the solution we ended up with was really rather elegant. But you would never design an airplane that way. Give us trimmable winglets, and the boats will go faster, and we’ll reduce the risk of crashes.”
Nova: Click Making Stuff Faster to find your local listing.
Are there physical limits to how fast humans can go? David Pogue wants to find out how much we can tweak physiology and engineering to move humans and machines even faster. He investigates everything from lightning-fast electric muscle cars to ultra-sleek sailboats to ultra-fast cameras and quantum teleportation. But faster is also about efficiency and the science of optimization: getting things done in less time. From the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to UPS headquarters and inside a packed 737, Pogue’s quest for ultimate speed limits takes him to unexpected places where he comes face-to-face with the final frontiers of speed. NOVA also explores important questions: Is it possible to go too fast? Have we hit a point where innovation outpaces our ability to keep up?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I travelled to Indonesia to do some research for my undergraduate thesis. I was working with a prof who did coral research, which meant our group spent all day every day on the reef. It was a sweet gig. Our fearless leader, Dr R, was unflappable. He had a thousand stories of things that had gone wrong here and there in his travels, but, since nothing really fazed him, somehow those stories never came across as scary. So when he told me in all seriousness that I should be afraid of sea snakes, I was afraid of sea snakes. Investigating the matter supported that point of view. The very pretty sea krait (genus Laticauda), or tricot rayé as it is called in New Caledonia, is more poisonous than a cobra. Oh, and did I mention there is no antivenin? Right. Not good.
So let’s get down to business on sea snakes. Here I am, all blasé about sharks, but I’m afraid of a wiggler hardly the length of my arm? In a word: yes. Not terrified, not panicky – I just intend to give sea snakes a very wide berth. Luckily, the tricot rayé is with me on that. They live in the rocks ashore, hunt in the reefs, and don’t want anything to do with you. Once again, our “don’t be an idiot” advice applies. Don’t bug the snakes, and they won’t bug you.
This is sometimes easier said than done.
Last week, we took our visitors sailing between Noumea and Isle of Pines. A number of people had recommended Ilot Mato as a good halfway point, so we cheerfully stopped there for a day or two.
We set up a base camp on the island, so the snorkellers could snorkel, the loungers could lounge, and we could all enjoy some chicken over the campfire when we were hungry. As we approached Ilot Mato on the dinghy, a big turtle raced by us in the other direction. Always a promising sign.Ho hum. More gorgeous scenery.
While lunch was cooking, Indy and I went for a walk. The tide had fallen, leaving a large pebbly patch between us and our campsite. As we walked back, we heard Stylish shout, “Snake!”
Even though we were a hundred feet away, we froze. The people left at camp were all watching something disappear into the bushes. I breathed a sigh, and reminded myself that the snakes have no interest in us. I was about to take a step when I heard another shout: “Snake!”
I froze again. Because this time it was Indy yelling, and the snake was three feet in front of us. And it was not happy that I hadn’t seen it myself. In my defense, its black and gold rings blended in perfectly with the rocks. It watched us for a moment before sliding on its way.Sometimes camouflage is not your friend.
Let’s pause here to dispose of a common myth. I can’t tell you how many people have suggested to me that sea snakes can’t bite you because their heads are too small to open that wide. Please. Human jaws are built differently than a snake’s jaws. Have you ever stopped to wonder how a python can swallow an antelope? If you take a peek over at LiveScience, you will see that a snake’s lower jaw is made of two bones connected by a ligament in front, and the upper and lower jaws are not rigidly attached. That is a recipe for some serious opening action. So if a snake wants to bite you, it can bite you. You rely solely on the snake’s good will to keep you from a bloodstream full of venom.
As the afternoon went on, the calls of “snake!” came ever more frequently. Some were in the water. Some were in the bushes. All of them wanted to slither through our camp.“Oh, am I disturbing you?” “Why don’t I swim beside your boat instead?”
By the end of the afternoon, Stylish put our tally at twelve live snakes, one dead one. And while my heart gave a flutter every time another scaly beast zipped past my kids on the sand, I did become resigned to the whole operation. No one got bitten. What more could I ask for?
We went on to Isle of Pines, and our snake sightings became less frequent. I decided that Ilot Mato was an isolated case. Evening came, and we enjoyed a coffee with our friends on the hotel porch while the girls did cartwheels in the sand.
And a tricot rayé emerged from the waves. And disappeared under the porch.
I guess our snake-watching days continue.
Where two weeks ago the big cats went foiling . . .
Just when raceboards hit a design plateau and kite design settled down—for five minutes—along came foils that work on all points of sail. Speeds at the California Foilboard Championship on San Francisco Bay over the weekend were more than 20 percent faster than they would have been on raceboards skimming the surface. But, no surprise, Rolex US Yachtsman of the Year Johnny “it must be yachting” Heineken set the pace and won 10 races out of 12. American Bryan Lake, a foiling pioneer, and French riders Jean-Guillaume Rivaud and Hervé Rousseau at times pushed him hard.
Having watched from the sidelines, I can vouch that our two-time world champion slurped up a lot of San Francisco Bay developing his chops in his first month on a foil. Johnny’s fellow raceboard veteran Adam Koch, also newly launched on foils, describes getting it wrong as, “like falling off a six-foot ladder, and then it pile-drives you in and runs you down.”
(Yes, the foil to the right is displayed inverted)
So, Adam, that sounds, um, great, not to mention you’re probably going pretty fast at impact.
But when it’s right?
Take away a board slapping the surface, and the surprise is the silence of it all. “Foiling is easier, physically, than sailing a raceboard,” Koch said, “but it takes focus. It’s Zen. You have to trust. Don’t think. I haven’t once wanted to go back to a raceboard since I started foiling. It changed my life.”
Frenchman Remi Delahaye designed the Taaroa Sword foils that both Heineken and Koch were riding, and he came to San Francisco to meet his “passionate clients.” Delahaye’s foils have a much higher aspect ratio than the foils that appeared at the inaugural world championship in 2009—also sailed out of St. Francis Yacht Club—foils that were fast upwind but slow downwind. Delahaye regards this as a standard product. “It’s a thirty-knot foil,” he says. “Sometimes the guys make 33,34. But I’m going to have a 40-knot foil that will be perfect for a few people like Johnny. He’s amazing. He mastered this in one month. Then the top riders can decide on the beach which foil to use, depending on weight, wind, courage.”
Heineken was not necessarily faster in a straight line than the Frenchmen who made the journey to sail on Heineken’s home waters. He was faster through the corners (in one month, remember) and perhaps savvier on choosing his corners. The French have been at this for a while, btw, and have been holding regattas with split fleets for raceboards and foilers.
I think we have a new normal.
Kites were launched from the beach just west of the clubhouse, and it helps to have beach assist . . .
Launch styles varied . . .
Another difference between early foils and the new models is minimum foiling speed. Koch explained that with the new, high aspect foils, “You have to go fast to make them work. Speed is your safety net, and then they’re stable. It’s a quick learning curve. You see in a hurry that your body has to be in line with the mast of the foils. You don’t lean left or right [relative to the board] the way you would on a surfboard. The control mojo is all front-back, to manage the porpoise. If the foil lifts to the surface it’s game over. If the board slaps down, you spin out, so you’re motivated to keep it in the groove.
“I’ve been through I-14s, and I’ve been through the apparent wind game with 49ers. Then it was kiteboards. Now I’m really into balancing on a stick.”
Joe Cool has a quickie on youtube here.
Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 13, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
It’s great to test an unusual device that promises to do something new and desirable for the good vessel Gizmo and find out that it installs fairly easily and works quite well. That Actisense EMU-1 is now converting the analog gauge data from the boat’s 14-year-old Volvo Penta diesel into NMEA 2000 messages that can be displayed in multiple ways on most any MFD or instrument screen on board and can also be custom alarmed and logged. I’m going to be better informed about my engine’s health, which is very important, while also gaining some scarce helm panel real estate for better uses than dumb analog gauges…
I’m too conservative to totally remove Gizmo’s old gauges (like the set above at the lower helm), but I’m already confident enough of the EMU-1 data that I plan to move them to an obscure location when I do a “glass bridge” makeover this winter. Incidentally, one neat nuance of the EMU-1 is that each of its 6 gauge channels can automatically sense the presence of an analog sibling, adjusting its calibration curve to suit and also sending power to the sender if needed. If the old coolant temperature gauge (upper left) fails, for instance, the EMU will still deliver the temp information if the sender is working, at least theoretically…and if the EMU or N2K network fail, the gauge will still work. This is a semi-redundancy I like! (The three trouble lights and their associated audio alarms are a different deal, which I’ll explain further down.)
The most tedious part of the install was attaching all those skinny alarm, gauge, and tach signal wires seen on the EMU-1 terminals (top photo) to the appropriate wires on the back of the old gauge panel. Removing the panel made the job easier, and I also used 3M Scotchlok IDC tap connectors that will eventually get their own Panbo entry. Then came the exciting moment when I fired up both the Volvo Penta (whose ignition now also activates the EMU-1) and the EMU Config Tool software above. (It’s necessary to have an Actisense NGT-1 Gateway between the boat’s N2K network and whatever PC you use, but there are numerous other good uses for the gateway, like feeding boat info to a compatible charting or instrument program.)
The Tool is pretty straightforward; drop-down menus let you specify which signal is attached to which terminal and then select possible gauge calibration profiles. There’s not much custom calibration possible until Actisense adds it (planned) but in most cases the digital signals seem to match my analog gauge readings pretty well. The exception is coolant temperature, which is reading about 15° high (I have a Maretron temp sensor on the block, which confirms the analog gauge). I look forward to getting the temp numbers right as the Config Tool evolves, but in truth, the number I’m getting is quite usable because it’s consistent. I also had to fiddle with RPM ratio until it matched (what I’ve always considered) tachometer reality, and that was it…
On Gizmo there are umteen ways to display N2K info, but for the real nitty-gritty there’s nothing like Actisense’s NMEA Reader (or Maretron’s N2KAnalyzer). All the PGN’s (messages) from SRC (source) 13 on the screen above are coming from the EMU-1 and the right-hand window is a breakdown of the “Engine Parameters, Dynamic” PGN 127489. Engine RPM, Boost Pressure, and Tilt/Trim are in the “Engine, Rapid Update” PGN going out every 0.1 seconds and naturally Gizmo’s Transmission Oil Pressure is in the “Transmission, Dynamic” message. This is a great way to see what a device like the EMU-1 is doing, and what else it could do (if I had the appropriate sensors).
Now here’s how fancy some of that same data can be displayed, in this case on a Garmin GPSMap 7212, which even asked me if I’d like to set the engine’s maximum RPM when it first saw the EMU-1 tachometer message. Newer Garmin displays like the GPSMap 741 and the GMI 20 Instrument (Panbo look here) will automatically select gauge types based on the PGNs received, though none would put up a Transmission Oil Pressure dial (even though the numeric data can be shown no problem). Garmin also lets you set limits on each digital gauge and is probably the best at deciphering and showing the “trouble lights,” which are associated with those alarm switch terminals on the EMU-1. (If Gizmo’s ignition is on without the engine running, the low oil pressure warning above “lights” up, and I was able to confirm the over temperature alarm by temporarily setting it to “low” with the Config Tool.)
But while you can’t change which gauges are shown on Garmin engine windows, you do all sorts of modifications to the Raymarine e7 screen seen above. Except that the only gauge for which you can customize the limits is RPM. Sometimes this is not important, but when, say, the fixed engine voltage dial goes from 0 to 60v, that’s not very useful for monitoring a 12v alternator. The good news is that every N2K display developer is doing a better job with engine info than they used to and that trend may even speed up as devices like the EMU-1 (and Ray’s new ECI-100) proliferate.
I haven’t yet fooled with the gauge capabilities of the Furuno NavNet TZT14, but I do like how it can display the engine’s “nickname” and also the look of the customized tachometer. And while I’m not sure why the TZT wasn’t showing oil pressure at the time of the screenshot, it does show fine on the Furuno RD33 screen (Panbo hands-on here). Neither will show Transmission Oil Pressure, but again, that’s probably something Furuno will add in good time (or I missed somehow).
While the Simrad NSS and NSE engine screen dials may be fixed, you can put any N2K data field available into a gauge and configure both its low and high limits and warnings. Nice! (After the screenshot I was able to program the left and right bar graphs to show Gizmo’s port and starboard fuel tank levels, and also to find valid data for those blank fields.)
I don’t think that any company offers as much gauge customization as Maretron, but frankly all this experimentation left me wondering how much screen real estate users will want to give up in order to duplicate old style analog dials? Personally, I’d always like to have a good tach in view, but I wonder what happened to space-efficient gauge ideas like what the Simrad CX sported in 2006? I’ve also come to realize that well-defined alarms that really get my attention are way better than numbers or needles that I’m supposed to monitor. Maretron is ahead in this department, too, and I’ll explain the niceties of the righthand screen above in a future entry. But I believe that sophisticated and flexible alarming will come to many N2K devices eventually. In fact, I think it’s quite possible that Actisense will eventually add custom N2K warnings and alerts right into the EMU-1 box. There’s so much possible when a PC programmable box can put simple analog data into meaningful NMEA 2000 messages.
That’s not to say that the Actisense EMU-1 couldn’t be very useful on many boats right now. Gizmo has had two major engine coolant failures during my four years of ownership, and either one could have cost me a great deal of money had the engine overtemp alarm not warned me at the last moment or if I’d been in a less friendly spot to shut down and cool off. With the EMU-1 and a custom N2K alert system (like Maretron’s) I can get an early warning of engine temperature just above normal. Ditto for engine and transmission oil pressures, which I can also now monitor on the flying bridge (instead of this). And note that I think the EMU-1 can even support added sensors, like perhaps a redundant temp probe on block, and will be able to do even more once the two auxilary inputs are enabled.
As for competition, I haven’t heard anything recently about the Albatross Control Systems adapters I tried in 2009 and apparently Rose Point Navigation has decided not to release the analog engine adapter for which I saw neat calibration and gauging back in 2011. On the other hand, the NoLand RS11 CANbus Engine Data Converter that Panbot Adam Block once wrote about is now NMEA 2000 certified and sounding pretty powerful. It has, for instance, a way to reset the engine hour field it sends out after install, a feature I hope Actisense will add.
I suspect that the $455 EMU-1 is easier to install than the $280 RS11 (and it has more inputs), but then again, I probably spent nearly a day getting the one on Gizmo working right. In fact, this type of device seems like a good opportunity for professional installers who could probably get the job done quickly and well, once they understood all the steps (Gemeco, which also stocks all this gear, can help). There are a lot of analog marine engines out there that could use better attention in their waning years, and a lot are on boats that already have displays that could at least do some of the monitoring job now and will likely get better at it in the future.
Q: I’d like to go cruising, but I’m not so keen on sharks. Do you see many? Are they a problem?
A: Ah, sharks. On my list of Things People Worry About On Our Behalf, they sit second only to pirates. And I understand that. They are strong, fast, and have those excellent triangular teeth that just scream out “higher predator!” The media doesn’t help this image. If you go watching shows with names like Ten Deadliest Sharks, then you are feeding your fears. As my mother would say, don’t put beans up your nose.
Short answer: you do not need to curtail your cruising plans because of sharks. We have two issues to deal with here: what am I looking at? and how do I behave?
First of all, “shark” is not a monolithic category of bulked-up fish on a killing spree. There is a big gap between your kind and gentle sharks, like plankton-eating whale sharks, and your eating machines, like the ever-popular great white shark. So do your homework, and find out what sharks are going to be where you are. For our part, we do a lot of snorkelling over shallow reefs. That means that, most of the time, we see blacktip reef sharks, or vakis, as they call them in the Tuamotus.
The ones we see are normally about my size. And I’ll admit, it is a little disconcerting the first time a shark swims past you only ten feet away. It is a little more disconcerting when the shark comes back for a second look. But it makes sense: they are curious, and their life depends on sizing up the other “fish” they meet. Last year, we sailed to a remote, rarely-visited motu. There was no village nearby, so no one fished there, which meant the area was essentially wild. Erik and I did a drift snorkel through the pass, and at one point looked down to see a bed of twenty grey reef sharks (raira in Pumotu) resting below us. I won’t say my stomach didn’t give a small lurch. But we ignored them and they ignored us, and everyone went home with all of their limbs.
This leads me to my point around behavior, which I can sum up this way: don’t be an idiot. Don’t swim in murky water, or at dusk, or where somebody is cleaning fish nearby. Don’t touch a shark. Don’t chase it, don’t poke it, don’t scare it, don’t chum it. Just watch. All else being equal, you’ll be fine. Your riskiest moment in shark-infested waters (I can’t believe I just got to write “shark-infested waters” in a literal usage. I love this blog.) comes when you are fishing. If you are in the water spear fishing and you hit a fish, get that fish out of the water immediately, because this is the moment when sharks become actively dangerous. Sharks detect the pressure variations caused by an injured fish thrashing around, and can smell minute traces of fish blood (they are not interested in human blood, I might add) up to a quarter mile away. When you hit a fish, the sharks will come, and fast. Do not get between a shark and and an injured fish. Better you lose dinner than lose your hand.
Some sharks are always a little risky, even if you are behaving yourself. According to the International Shark Attack File, the vast majority of attacks come from tiger sharks, bull sharks, and great white sharks. Yes, these sharks are more aggressive than our friends the vakis. But the short answer is, they don’t want to eat you. They want to eat everything. Indy has an early reader about sharks (the cover is pictured above), and her favorite section shows things found in their stomachs.
I find this oddly comforting. Think of great white sharks as the goats of the sea. They are indiscriminate. There isn’t a whole lot of thinking going on; it is more “I see it, I eat it.” So don’t take it personally, and, if they worry you, don’t swim in places that have great whites. I know I wouldn’t. But, vakis? No worries. We know how to leave each other be.
But really, all of this is looking at the issue backwards. Sharks aren’t a problem. In fact, sharks are absolutely necessary. They are what is called a keystone species, which means that they exert an important regulatory effect on an ecosystem, both in terms of the fish they eat and how their presence affects the behavior of other animals in the system. When you lose sharks, you gain problems. So the reefs and the open ocean need sharks.
And sharks are really, truly, beautiful creatures.
When you get beyond your fear of those big, sharp teeth, you can appreciate how lovely these fish really are. They are a joy to watch in the water, and it is a great privilege to swim beside them. We have seen sharks of all sorts – lemon sharks, nurse sharks, whitetip reef sharks, vakis, rairas, hammerheads. We have seen sharks smaller than Indy, and 12 foot behemoths. They are beautiful to watch. Yes, they can be dangerous, but so is driving your car. I think we would all be better off to spend more effort learning about sharks and protecting their place in the oceans than being afraid they maybe might bite us.
And so I will leave you on that note. Don’t worry about sharks. Just leave them alone, watch them and enjoy.
The big in-the-water show here in Annapolis is featuring a lot of the in-the-air water this year. We suffered a biblical downpour yesterday morning that continued sputtering on and off through the day. I was forced to invest in new Helly Hansen boots and an umbrella on the spur of the moment…
…but many other showgoers and exhibitors were better prepared and put together more coordinated wet-weather fashion ensembles.
Like all Atlantic cats, this new one has its working cockpit forward of the house. Except here, you’ll note there are few control lines, as the only two sails to worry about are a pair of rolling-furling self-tacking jibs.
The two masts, encased in fully rotating wing foils complete with trailing flaps, also act as sails.
Mast attitude is controlled with simple direct-drive continuous-line winch and the flap is controlled with a simple lever.
There are also flaps on the back of the two fixed keels to help them generate more lift. Here you see the control mechanism for one of those. Apparently I wasn’t the only one interested in this boat, as I heard later that Jimmy Spithill, of recent America’s Cup fame, who roamed the show a bit yesterday and is speaking today, also took a tour and is keen on it.
Here’s a hot new Mini I found, in case you want to sign up quick for the Mini Transat.
The new Tiwal, an inflatable sailboat that actually looks like it will sail very well. It weighs 100 pounds and can be assembled in 20 minutes.
The Rustler 36 is a British boat I’ve long admired. It’s been in production forever, but this is the first new one ever to appear over here. It’s a sweet traditional full-keel cruising boat of modest size, but will set you back almost half a million dollars.
The transom-hung rudder is tiller-steered, with the tiller brought through the transom and set in this unique coaming box.
The tiller flips up out of the way when you’re in port, and there’s a nifty control line underneath so you can lock it in place.
This is Paul Calder (son of Nigel, who I’m rooming with this year) showing off the cool forepeak arrangement on the Allures 45, an aluminum centerboard cruiser from France. There are two fixed berth/settees, two pipe berths over them, plus a fold-down table (not shown), so you can stash a horde of kids or guests in here if you want. Or just use it as vast sail and gear locker.
Hinckley (remember them?) made a big announcement late in the day. They’re a building a new boat. As in a whole new design… the first one (other than a daysailer) since God knows when. It looks to be very modern, drawn by Bill Tripp (not the dead one, but his son).
The new Amel 64 features this posh center-cockpit helm station situated under a retractable hard-top targa roof.
There’s also a retractable passarelle that sprouts out of the transom, which also boasts a huge dinghy garage.
The interior has all sorts of fab features, including a split saloon with an enormous flat-screen TV and this elegant, prominently placed glass display cabinet for storing stemware. Looks nice, but I’d hate to be around when someone or something smashes through it while the boat is bouncing around in a seaway.
I love this inside steering station on the new Gunboat 60. There’s a great view forward, and the wheel connects directly to the one outside.
I also liked the arrangement of these two single berths below. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on a crusade for a while now: more single berths on modern boats! I think it’s finally beginning to work.)
One boat I found so interesting that I apparently forgot to photograph it (insert dope-slap here) was the new Catalina 275 sportboat. It looks to be a fun, easy-to-sail race boat that the family can also enjoy daysailing, for not too much money–just about $75K.
Be sure to check it out if you’re at the show today. And be sure to wear your snorkel, as it’s still raining out there!
Random thoughts on a hasty Thursday—
Is it perhaps ironic that Ian Williams came out on top of his go-at with Ben Ainslie in Bermuda in the Argo Group Gold Cup, though both have advanced to the quarter finals? Ainslie is of course the guy who has medaled in the last five Olympiads—I’ll save you the arithmetic, that’s a 20-year run—and is just coming off a stint as tactician in AC34, while Williams set out very publicly, years ago, to win his way into an America’s Cup campaign through results on the match racing circuit. Um, not yet. But he’s doing all right.
Williams, a past tour champion and 2013 Alpari World Match Racing Tour leader, was 8-1 wrapping up the opening round, a score matched by Luna Rossa tactician Francesco Bruni. Press officers on site advise: As the top seed in Group 2, Williams got first pick of the skipper he would race in the Quarter Finals. Williams surprised everyone by choosing to race Argo Group Gold Cup defending champion Taylor Canfield, USA, who had finished with a 7-2 score and gone two days unbeaten in Group 1. Williams explained his choice by saying that he wanted to go all out to protect his standing on the tour, where he currently leads by 9 points over both Canfield and Adam Minoprio (NZL). After the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club’s Argo Group Gold Cup, one event remains on the Tour.
ON HOLD IN FRANCE
With intense lows aimed at the Bay of Biscay, the officials of the 2013 Mini Transatlantic Race are holding 84 entries, each 21 feet long, in port at Douarnenez, the classic starting point of this classic event. Not everyone agrees: Giancarlo Pedote speaks for many: ” It is known that this is a period in which the depressions are very intense and very wild in the Bay of Biscay or in Cap Finisterre or along the coast of Portugal. When the organization has chosen to give the start of the race in mid-October from the bay of Douarnenez, it was easy to imagine that something like that could happened. For this reason i believe that despite this decision , sooner or later we will have to deal with a really strong weather. At the end they’re just postponing a problem that probably should have been taken into account at the beginning”.
For the race committee, it’s now a no-win situation, but one that could get worse. By delaying. By not.
Douarnenez to Arrecife (Lanzarote): 1200 miles.
Arrecife to Pointe a Pitre: 2800 miles.
AMERICA’S CUP ? REALLY ?
The Port Commission meeting on Tuesday at San Francisco’s Ferry Building was a love fest of commendations orbiting around the expectation of a 2017 Cup match on San Francisco Bay.
Still the best bet, though anything can happen, and sometimes does.
Certain of my colleagues speculating on these matters and imputing motive past and present might want to consider that they are participating in a public Rorschach test . . .
UP, UP AND AWAY
Kite sailors have been playing with foils for years. Not so long ago they were faster upwind—maybe 20 percent faster—but too slow downwind to win against conventional boards. Still, you could play, as this “vintage” shot from Erik Simonson displays . . .
Now foiling has grown up. New foils from French builders are not cheap, but the riders are making them work, and the Rolex US Yachtsman of the year—Johnny “it must be yachting” Heineken is one who has made the step up, literally. This is Heineken playing upriver at Sherman Island . . .
Johnny’s home base, St. Francis Yacht Club, is running something Friday through Sunday that you probably haven’t seen before. Howzabout a California Championship for foilboards? Believe—Kimball
And if there’s anybody who hasn’t already seen it: capsize? wow
Singapore sits at the pointy southern end of the Malay peninsula. Less than nine nautical miles of water separate the island nation from Indonesia to the south, and a much narrower band divides it from Malaysia to the north. It’s a smaller margin all the time, based on the land reclamation projects we saw. Even our 2011 charts weren’t current, and we passed multiple stages of different land-add projects underway- including land masses which were not yet noted on our two-year-old charts. Singapore’s expansion plans are sufficient for neighboring countries to have banned the sale of marine sand used in the projects.
I should back up and point out that we didn’t plan to cross Singapore. We planned to stop in, and visit for a few days. However, the Republic requires boats entering to have an “AIS transponder installed and operational.” We have a receiver, but not a transponder, so that left us out. Hey, we’d love a transponder, but they weren’t legal for private pleasure craft to purchase when we got our AIS gear in 2008, and it’s kind of an expensive upgrade! It turns out there is a back-door way around this that local clubs will facilitate, but at the time, the information we had was the response from the port quoted above, and it is quite unambiguous. We’ll do the wink-and-nod version on our way back south, now that we know the secret handshake.
Meanwhile, we had a country to get across, so we lined up at an anchorage at the east side of Singapore with the goal of a single-day run from Malaysia to Malaysia, with a glimpse of the nation-city between. It started easily enough. Blue skies, accurate charts, gentle breezes.
Then the odd fishing flag started to pop up. These are the flags on a pole about 2 meters long, identifying ONE end of a long net. The game, when you’re in a boat, is to figure out which way the net goes- so you don’t end up massively fouled in it. Then, we saw another… and another… and another. In shipping lanes, even! Huh? I’d have pictures, but I was too busy spotting.
Mostly, it was just very, very crowded. We got into the groove, but constant vigilance to the speed and trajectory of nearby boats was necessary. Totem is just a speck next to most of them, and mass wins!
Fun fact: our AIS receiver peaked at 887 ships in our immediate area. Thankfully, many of these are at anchor or moored, but it is a massive amount of traffic and pretty stressful.
There was a startling range of ship types, from the small fishing boats to big car carriers and massive tankers. Turns out there’s a name for the supertankers built to the maximum size that will fit through the straits: the Malaccamax. The constraint is depth; 25 meters (82 feet). They’re used for carrying crude from the middle east to China.
We were lucky with the current, and were able to make nearly the entire distance with neutral or favorable current. There was a brief stint of foul, but mostly it was one to two knots of push, the whole way around. You can time these things but it was luck, really, to have the daylight hours transit line up so nicely… and put us safely inside Puteri Harbor well before sunset.
Jim Carrier is a contributing editor for Cruising World magazine, and a fellow Allied Seabreeze owner! His boat, a yawl like Arcturus, is called Ranger. Jim sailed it across the Atlantic with ARC Europe several years back, and his experience with the boat on that long ocean passage convinced Andy & Mia to buy their Seabreeze. Andy and Jim discuss sailing the Seabreeze and Jim’s career as a writer. He’s done far more than just sailing journalism, writing newspaper columns, advocating for Civil Rights in Alabama and writing about Hurricane Katrina. Check him out on byliner.com – he’s among an A-list of writers, including Jon Kraukauer, famous for ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘Into Thin Air.’ Thanks Jim!
Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 9, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
Maybe you, too, have an opinion about how predicted currents should be overlaid on electronic charts? Well, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) is developing an S-100 specification for “the delivery and presentation of navigationally significant surface currents” and right now they’re running an online survey of all interested parties. What waters do you care about (coastal for me)? What prediction frequency would you like? Are you willing to pay? How should the data look? And more…
Now maybe you’re thinking that current predictions are already pretty well displayed, and I wouldn’t argue, but what’s wonderful about the IHO’s interest is the prospect of a standard that might encourage the collection and distribution of better data. In other words, the current arrows on whatever charting software or multifunction display you use may look good, but I hope you know to treat them cautiously. I only had to open the app above to get a good example. Those arrows vaguely represent what the tidal currents are doing in my cruising neighborhood as I write, but with the emphasis on “vaguely” and much more, so as you drill down on all the coves and byways that drain and fill with about ten feet of water twice a day.
Those arrows do represent the same NOAA tidal current stations that most every other provider displays, but they are not nearly dense enough to cover hydrodynamics as complicated as this coast. Plus, by definition they predict nothing about other surface current factors like big storms offshore or particularly robust river and stream outfalls. And, incidentally, this section of Maine has more than a normal share of NOAA tidal current prediction stations. I had a devil of a time figuring out the strong currents I found along the Intracoastal Waterway last fall and spring and though I’m in a powerboat these days, currents still matter a lot (at the efficient, peaceful speeds I prefer). I don’t know how finer grain surface current info will get collected — satellites? crowd sourcing? — but I’d sure like the IHO to know that we care. Besides, the survey is short and interesting.
By the way, the app above is Jeppesen Marine Plan2Nav for Android, which is looking good in V1.1. For instance, the now available Active Captain cruising info pairs very nicely with the C-Map C-Marina chart detail. AC was also where I heard about this IHO survey, for which I’m grateful.
I just read Sailing Alone Around the World, by Captain Joshua Slocum, for about the tenth time. On this reading I noted that Captain Slocum careened several times on his voyage, usually to paint the bottom. This was long before travel lifts, but being a budget cruiser, Captain Slocum wouldn’t have paid for one anyway. He just found a suitable beach with an adequate tidal range and let nature do the work.
Why don’t we careen anymore?
If we careened on our local American swimming beach to slap on a few coats of Micron we’d undoubtedly end up in handcuffs, but in much of the world nobody cares. Also, careening might not allow enough drying time for modern (and expensive) bottom paints, but there are lots of other tasks below the waterline. I’ve known two people who’ve had to haul out to get the adjustments right on folding propellers. I guess they thought the job too complicated to do underwater, so they bit the bullet. In both cases, after a trial run, the adjustment still wasn’t right, so out a second time at something like $500 a pop. Ouch.
Some modern designs with swing keels or spade rudders couldn’t careen without damage, but most sailboats, even with fin keels, should be able to careen without incident. If not, this poses some pointed questions about how the boat might handle a grounding or unintended careening, of which I’ve had many.
The one time I intended to careen was in Richard’s Bay, South Africa. I’d noticed while diving that there didn’t seem to be anything holding on the rudder shoe. It wasn’t falling off, but it looked like someone attached it with stainless screws, and the stainless did what it does when deprived of oxygen for years on end.
My buddy Ian arrived from California with some stout bronze screws, the Richard’s Bay harbormaster said he didn’t mind, and the tidal range was about eight feet, so I plowed Condesa into the beach, stern first:
Once the tide was all the way out things started to go wrong. We powered our electric drill with ship’s batteries through a small, plug-in inverter, which didn’t give enough oomph to go through a inch of bronze. To make matters worse, to get the drill at the right angle we had to dig a hole under the rudder, and this hole quickly filled with water. Ian would bail out the hole as fast as he could with a bucket, then I’d jump in with our underpowered drill until the hole filled again, no more than ten or twenty seconds of drilling before we had to bail again:
Somehow we got a few screws in with adequate sealant, while working up a great sweat in the African summer, and the rudder has stayed on for the last ten years:
T’would have been easier in a boatyard, but not $500 easier.
Speaking of Gambia, here’s a very cool time-lapse viddy documenting the construction there during 2012 of Han Klaar‘s new crab-claw-rigged double-canoe Ontong Java II (a.k.a, OJ II). Hans is out and about cruising the planet aboard this intriguing vessel and is looking for pay-to-play crew to join the adventure. Check here for info on how to do that.
I’m posting this in rush, as I’m flying to Annapolis today for the annual show.
Hope to see some of you down there!
We have visitors aboard, and boy, have they gotten a look at the sweet side of cruising life. Perfect weather, good winds, reefs, fish, sharks, sea snakes… the good ship Papillon has been a walking advertisement for chucking it all and setting out to sea.
IT IS AN UNWRITTEN RULE that every cruise up an African river must have a Greater Purpose–some guy named Kurtz to chase after, a lost explorer to rescue, a legendary city of gold to loot, some palpable goal to lure you ever onward into regions where you might not otherwise venture. My partner Carie and I by now had spent nearly two weeks cruising up the Gambia in my old Alberg 35 yawl and decided finally we had two of these: we wanted to see a hippopotamus and we wanted to attend a dance.
Our desire to see a hippopotamus was, of course, quite facile, merely a box to check off on a bucket list. Hippos were the local megafauna, the largest creatures indigenous to the river, and it was only natural we should want to clap eyes on one. Seeing a dance, on the other hand, we hoped might yield some significant insight into the soul of the continent. I had long admired Isak Dinesen‘s famous memoir, Out of Africa, and recalled in particular her description of the great dances, called ngomas, that were held on her property in Kenya.
“The real performers,” she wrote, “the indefatigable young dancers, brought the glory and luxury of the festivity with them, they were immune to foreign influence, and concentrated upon the sweetness and fire within themselves. One thing only did they demand from the outside world: a space of level ground to dance on.”
More recently I had discovered a lesser known work, Africa Dances, by Geoffrey Gorer, an anthropologist who traveled throughout West Africa in the early 1930s studying traditional African dance. He considered it the continent’s most important art form:
Africans dance. They dance for joy, and they dance for grief; they dance for love and they dance for hate; they dance to bring prosperity and they dance to avert calamity; they dance for religion and they dance to pass the time. Far more exotic than their skin and their features is this characteristic of dancing; the West African negro expresses every emotion with rhythmical bodily movement. Dancing [for them] has always held first place.
But first, we realized, we needed more fuel. Thanks to the tide, river current, and wind, all of which flowed against us more than we would have liked, we were doing more motoring than anticipated. My yawl Crazy Horse carried just 30 gallons of diesel in her fuel tank, plus we had one 6-gallon jerry can on deck, and already we’d used up nearly 20 gallons. I did expect we’d do much more sailing after we finally turned around and came back downriver, but still it seemed prudent to increase our supply. The best place to do this, I guessed, would be at the ferry crossing at Farafenni, which was the first place east of Banjul where motor vehicles could cross the river.
Crazy Horse at anchor on the river
I had expected to see some evidence of the ferry landings from a distance. But as we motored past the ominous-looking wreck of the Lady Chilel, a Swedish tourist boat that sank back in the 1980s, then through a sweeping bend in the river at Devil’s Point immediately west of Farafenni, we spied only unbroken walls of mangrove and no hint of human infrastructure. I was beginning to wonder if this ferry was a myth, when an ungainly yellow blob of a motor vessel suddenly sprang out of the trees on our port side and trundled across the river blaring BBC news and Western pop music through its loudspeaker.
We didn’t see the landings themselves until they were almost directly abeam. The one on the north side, to port, looked much more substantial, so we anchored there and went ashore in the dinghy to investigate. There was a narrow cut through the foliage leading down to the ferry dock and a crude road, the sides of which, for a short distance, were jammed with small tin-roofed shops. Unlike every other place where we’d landed on the river, no one here paid us any attention. It seemed a very Wild West sort of atmosphere. Off to one side a small group of vultures with pink bubble-gum heads picked over the carcass of a large dead mammal. In the middle of the road, roaming through the cars and trucks that stood waiting for the ferry, various police and military types swaggered about with guns in their own vulture-like manner, asking questions and looking at papers.
Vultures waiting for some action
This presumably had something to do with the coup attempt I’d learned about earlier. Eight men with pistols had tried unsuccessfully to storm the police barracks here, and the authorities evidently were still in a state of high alert. The police, fortunately, were not interested in us, though all the shopkeepers were, once they realized we actually wanted to buy something. Unfortunately, they had no diesel fuel; for that we had to take our one empty jerry jug a few miles up the road by taxi to a service station in the main town. One enterprising fellow did, however, convince us to buy an empty 5-gallon cooking-oil container, so as to augment our carrying capacity.
Past Farafenni the river quickly became much narrower, with deep water close to the banks on both sides, which simplified navigation, and the water itself became brackish. We soon came to Elephant Island, the first of the large upriver islands marked out on our chart. Directly opposite, on the north bank, was a village called Bambale, with a substantial wooden wharf. We anchored the boat and went ashore here and, as always happened when we visited a village, were quickly lost in a swarm of excited children.
The first adult to spot us was a middle-aged woman who at once pulled us into her hut to show us a younger woman, heavily pregnant, who was feverish and lay on a bed wrapped in blankets. On the dirt floor beside her a charcoal fire was blazing away in a tin brazier. The older woman spoke anxiously in Mandinka, pointing alternately at the sick woman in bed and at us. Our herd of children, meanwhile, all of them yammering at each other, packed themselves into the tiny mud dwelling behind us so that they could see what was happening.
The crowd in the hut grew larger and larger, and louder and louder, and just when it seemed we might be suffocated by all the confusion, a young man in a long blue robe suddenly appeared, parting the crowd before him like a prophet.
“This woman’s daughter has been very sick for five days,” he announced in perfect English. “She wants to know if you have medicine to help her.”
This was in keeping with the pattern we’d noted as we traveled up the river. In the villages close to the coast, not far from Banjul, people always asked for money; further on they had asked for books; more recently they’d been asking for medical supplies. This woman with the fever, I guessed, most likely had malaria, and I did have some anti-malarial drugs onboard, but I had no idea if they would help her, or if they were safe for pregnant women.
“We are not doctors,” I said. “She needs to see a doctor. Is that possible?”
The young man explained that there was a clinic in Farafenni, but that to take her daughter there this woman would need money to pay for a donkey cart ride out to the main road, then money to pay for a bush taxi, and more money still to pay the doctor at the clinic. All these things, he said, would cost 45 dalasi.
Carie, who was Dutch, gave me a worried look. “Shall we give her 35?” she asked. What she was worried about, I knew, was that these people were somehow swindling us.
“Let’s make it 50,” I said.
Which was all of $5 U.S., a very small price to pay, I figured, to know we had done what we could to help. I took out my wallet and extracted from it five 10 dalasi notes, an act that made me feel incredibly omnipotent. But it also made me feel very self-conscious, and I was careful to make sure no one could see how many more notes I had.
“Please take this,” I said to the woman as I held out the money. “Please take your daughter to a doctor as soon as possible.”
Her reaction was everything a philanthropist might hope for. She gave out a great howl of surprise and glee, dropped to her knees, literally groveled at my feet, clasped one ankle with both her hands, and promised she would for the rest of her life pray to Allah on our behalf.
HAVING FOUND US, the young man in blue, whose name was Ebrahim, seized on us like a terrier with a bone. He was the only person in the village who could speak fluent English, as he had spent four years at a secondary school downriver. This had been paid for, we learned, by a generous Irish couple who, like us, had met Ebrahim while sailing up the river. Ever since then Ebrahim had zealously befriended the crews of every foreign yacht that stopped at Bambale. He remembered the names and nationalities of every sailor he’d met and could describe in great detail everything they’d said and done while visiting.
We had not intended to stop here long, but Ebrahim convinced us we should stay at least two days, until Sunday, when the villagers here would perform a calabash dance. “The Swedish tourist boat will come,” he explained, eyes bright, as though he had guessed what our ambition must be. “It is a very important ceremony.”
Meanwhile, he worked hard to monopolize our time. The morning after our arrival, the very instant I stuck my head out the companionway at the crack of dawn, there he was standing on the wharf waving his arms.
“Hello, hello,” he cried. “Please come ashore. We have many things to do today.”
We spent most of the morning with Ebrahim touring the village in detail. We met women grinding meal with huge wooden pestles in great wooden bowls; we met women doing laundry; we met women hauling water on their heads from the village well. We also met many men–the village elders taking their ease under a baobab tree, a group of holy marabouts who sat on benches and copied out long reels of Arabic on to grey chalkboards, a group of men putting a new thatched roof on a hut. It seemed as if we were introduced to most everyone in town, and during our procession many people complained at length about their health. One man claimed he’d been kicked in the head by a donkey when he was a boy and had never been the same since.
“It is true,” said Ebrahim sadly. “This man, he is always very confused.”
Carie poked me in the ribs. “You see,” she hissed. “They all think you will give them dalasi, like the woman from yesterday.”
I listened to all these complaints and took notes on a piece of paper, nodding my head gravely, but otherwise said nothing.
That afternoon Ebrahim took us over to Elephant Island in a dugout pirogue to show us the bush pigs that lived there. We had heard about these animals, wild warthogs that often made pests of themselves by decimating crops, and were happy to have a chance to meet some.
“Sometimes we must hunt them and kill them,” explained Ebrahim. “It can be very hard. They are dangerous when they are trapped.”
“Are they good to eat?” I asked, as I assumed they must be a valuable source of protein.
“No, no!” exclaimed Ebrahim. “We are Muslims. We cannot eat the filthy meat of pigs.”
Unfortunately, Carie and I made a great deal of noise mucking through the dense mangrove roots on the shore of the island in our big rubber boots. Ebrahim, meanwhile, who was barefoot, slipped like a silent wraith through the muddy tangle. When finally we reached high ground, Ebrahim pointed out several monkey tracks, but we found the bush-pig dens–holes dug in the ground between the roots of baobab trees, neatly carpeted with dry grass–were all empty.
“This is too bad. Very too bad,” said Ebrahim. “Normally the bush pigs will sleep here all day and only go at night to look for food.”
“I think they heard us,” I replied. “They heard the clumsy tubabs coming ashore with you, and they have all run away.”
Ebrahim said nothing, but smiled shyly in agreement.
Ebrahim with Carie aboard Crazy Horse at Bambale. Elephant Island is in the background
That evening he had us to his hut for dinner, a meal of fish and rice, which had been prepared by his sister. The three of us ate with spoons from a single steel bowl while the inevitable horde of children, who were very curious to see if we would eat Gambian food, watched from the open doorway and window. Afterwards we were joined by these children, and by many adults, who all crammed into the hut to drink China green tea with us. While the tea was prepared and served, always a laborious process, there was a great deal of lively conversation.
Like all villages we had visited, Bambale had no electricity, and the only light in Ebrahim’s hut came from a single candle. There was also an old flashlight that clearly needed new batteries. Amazingly, it seemed to be the only one in town, as people often stopped by to borrow it. There was no moon that night, and the world outside the hut was as black as ink. Never before had I been in any human community that was so devoid of illumination.
The tea party went on for hours, and when I eventually checked the time, I was surprised to see it was almost one in the morning. “Is this normal?” I asked Ebrahim, pointing at my watch.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“Do people here always stay up this late? Or is tonight different, because you have tubabs in your house?”
“Oh, no,” he laughed. “This is what we always do. We are often awake late at night, laughing and talking with each other.”
I was astonished by this statement and immediately envied these people. They had so little, but it seemed they always had food to eat, and they had each other. Did they really need much more than that? I wondered: if they became wealthier, would they do what we had done? Would they segregate themselves into hermetic homes filled with electric light and material objects, lock their doors, and become lonely? Was this the price of prosperity?
In the morning, again, Ebrahim waved to me eagerly from the wharf. I waved back, but we did not immediately go ashore. As much as I appreciated the intense sense of community we had experienced the night before, this relentless companionship, so freighted with expectation and desire because of who we were and what we represented, felt burdensome. Visiting villages on the Gambia, especially this one, had given me a good idea of what it’s like to be a Very Famous Person, and I wasn’t too sure I enjoyed it. Having the boat to retreat to, with its portable moat to protect us, was a blessing I greatly appreciated.
We spent most that day on the boat, hiding from the people in the village. In the late afternoon we finally went ashore to fill our water jug and invited Ebrahim to join us for dinner aboard that evening. He was thrilled and insisted on bringing the food, a spicy peanut soup with rice, which again was prepared by his sister. While we were eating together, Carie remarked on this and belabored Ebrahim about the unequal division of labor in Gambian villages.
“I see the women, they are always working,” she insisted. “And the men, they do nothing! I do not think this is right.”
Ebrahim was flabbergasted and could not utter one word in response. I actually agreed with Carie; it did seem the men were always idle in every village we visited. But out of loyalty to my gender, I came to Ebrahim’s rescue and listed the few jobs I knew of that the men did: building and repairing huts, tending the vegetable gardens (as opposed to the rice fields, a much more labor-intensive chore that fell to the women), and killing bush pigs. I hoped Ebrahim might add to this list, but he simply nodded.
“Yes, yes,” he said, greatly relieved. “The men also do work.”
Afterwards we presented him with gifts, a moment that inevitably felt awkward. For Ebrahim there was a pair of sunglasses and some books and magazines. For the village as a whole I had prepared a bag of medical supplies, along with some general instructions on how to use them and a list of what could be used specifically to treat the people who had complained to us of their maladies. There were also two packs of fresh D-sized batteries for the communal flashlight.
Ebrahim was effusively grateful, but still I felt embarrassed that our gifts were not more lavish. Ebrahim had made it very clear that he hoped that we, like our Irish predecessors, might pay for more schooling, and in fact this was, by our standards, entirely affordable. A year in school here cost little more than $100. But Ebrahim’s very fervent desire couldn’t help but taint his hospitality and made it seem something like extortion. This, I think, now haunted all his relationships with visitors.
The next morning we went ashore–at last!–to see about the calabash dance. I had assumed the tourist boat was coming on this day because this was when the dance was taking place, but in fact it was the other way around. The owners of the boat, explained Ebrahim, regularly paid the villagers to perform the dance and had also promised to someday build a small medical dispensary here.
And the boat, unfortunately, was running late. While standing on the wharf with the rest of the villagers waiting for it to appear, I noticed there was a marked change in the behavior of the children who always followed us around. Before they were always trying to hold our hands and constantly asked: “What is your name? What is your name?” But now, for the first time, as if caught in some Pavlovian reaction, they became much more aggressive and asked if we would give them candy and money.
Eventually the boat did come, two hours later than expected. It was a dilapidated steel thing, perhaps 70 feet long, and looked like it might have been a gunboat in some previous existence. On board were ten German tourists, plump and prosperous, festooned with cameras, all of whom looked horrified when they stepped ashore and were mobbed by the locust children, who grabbed at them, demanding candy and money. I noticed one man in particular, heavy-set with jowls in a brightly colored shirt, who was especially vicious and slapped hard at his tormentors as he barked at them to stay away.
Because the boat was running so late, it turned out the calabash dance was cancelled. The tourists only had time to rush into the village for a quick 15-minute tour, and then immediately came trundling back down the trail toward the wharf. The man with the jowls, I noticed, had resigned himself to his fate and was now holding hands with two children, whom he lectured quietly in German. Finally, once all the tourists had gathered again on the wharf, the skipper of the boat gave a great happy shout and hurled handfuls of candy in all directions. With an ear-piercing squeal of delight, the children all chased after it, and the tourists quickly scrambled aboard their boat and escaped downriver.
JUST A FEW MILES upriver from Bambale we came to Sea Horse Island, so named because this supposedly was where European explorers first discovered the species hippopotamus back in the early 15th century. From here the water in the river became fresh and the scenery on shore was transformed. Instead of the endless unbroken walls of mangrove, we now saw open marshes and rice fields, nipa palm trees, and enormous termite mounds that looked like wax drippings from giant red candles. In the distance in a few places we saw low hills, bright red knolls standing proud over the landscape, and sometimes low cliffs that crowded up to the river bank.
Cattle refresh themselves beneath a hill on the freshwater portion of the river
Termite mound on shore
We were also now tormented by new sorts of insects. At night, as before, we had to defend ourselves against mosquitos, but now during the day we were assaulted by tse-tse flies, which had an almost supernatural ability to evade detection. You’d see nothing, hear nothing, then suddenly you were bitten and felt a sharp stab of pain. Only then would you notice the rather large noisy fly that seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. They liked me much better than Carie, and every bite I received swelled up into an itchy red welt that took days to subside.
There were other types I could not identify, including one species that looked like a fearsome cross between a centipede and a Star Wars satellite. I found the first one under the floor in our inflatable dinghy and thought little of it as I flipped it overboard with an oar blade. Just two days later, however, I found nearly a hundred of these “dinghy bugs,” as I now called them, swarming under the teak grate in the cockpit on Crazy Horse. Yelping in surprise, I grabbed a can of insecticide and sprayed and sprayed, screaming like a victim in a zombie movie, until finally the can was empty and all the bugs were dead.
The dragonflies, at least, were both harmless and beautiful. I noticed them often, as they perched in the early morning like iridescent gems on our anchor rode, just a fraction of an inch above the surface of the water, with their wings quivering gently in the weak-willed breeze.
A geography dominated by bugs
Searching for hippos now became an important priority. An old man in Bambale had told me that he remembered when there were so many of them you could walk across the river on their backs. An apocryphal statement, no doubt, but I had no reason not to believe him when he also told me they were now hard to find. In the past, I’d heard, hippos had been hunted, as they are destructive, with enormous appetites, and are capable of devouring most of a rice field in a single night. Now they were protected by law, which meant you could only kill one if you caught it actually eating your rice. Supposedly there were less than a hundred left living in the navigable portion of the river below the falls at Fatoto.
Between Sea Horse Island and Kuntaur, once an important river port, there was a long series of islands stretching along the south bank of the stream. Between and behind these islands was a network of small creeks, and I was hopeful we could find hippos here if we tried hard enough. To increase our chances, we set out in the dinghy in the mornings and early evenings to look for them.
A small fishing pirogue under sail
One morning while we were out creek-crawling, the dinghy’s outboard got tangled up in a crude unmarked fish net that stretched clear across the creek we were exploring. Unfortunately, I had to cut the net with a knife to get free of it. Further up we found more nets, which we successfully evaded, and then the fisherman who had set them, who was paddling along in a dugout pirogue.
I hailed the man and led him back to the net we had damaged, showed him where I had cut it, and offered him 10 dalasi in reparations. He was clearly angry and at first rejected my offer, out of pride it seemed, but then thought better of it and accepted. After I actually paid him, he became much friendlier, and I was emboldened to ask if he knew where we might find some hippos. He pointed in the direction of the next creek upriver and nodded his head vigorously.
We could not be certain, of course, whether the fisherman had sent us to this creek because there really were hippos there, or whether he simply wanted us well away from his nets, but this did not dampen our enthusiasm. The further up the creek we went, the more wildlife we found–first an otter swimming deftly through the water, then numerous monkeys racing through the trees on shore–and with each sighting our hopes soared higher. The creek became ever narrower and more twisted, and soon we spotted big mudslide breaks in the foliage on shore where very large animals had obviously entered the water.
“This is it,” I told Carie, and I shut down the engine, pulled out the oars, and started rowing so that we wouldn’t frighten our hippo once we found it.
The creek became narrower still, such that there was barely room to swing the oars, and finally it dawned on me that meeting a hippo at such close quarters might possibly be dangerous. But still we pressed on. Just one more bend in the creek, I told myself, and then we’ll turn back. And so it went, through bend after bend, until finally we reached a small open pool ringed with tall grass.
We paused a moment here, as we could go no further, and then, as I was struggling to turn the dinghy around, we heard a rustling noise in the grass on the creek bank above us. The noise grew louder… and louder… and we held our breath, bracing for the impact of a one-ton hippo swan-diving down into our tiny inflatable boat.
Then, at last, we caught a glimpse of the beast. Not a hippo (fortunately), but a hairy old bush pig, which poked its head through the grass, inspected us briefly, flashed a curved tusk in our direction, and stomped off inland away from us.
COINCIDENTALLY, OUR HIPPO MANIA was assuaged the very next day. While motoring on to Kuntaur aboard Crazy Horse in the late morning, we spotted two at a distance on the open river. They looked like slim grey lozenges floating on the surface of the water–a mother and calf, presumably, as one was much smaller than the other.
“Shall we go closer?” asked Carie.
“No,” I answered morosely. “I think it’s best we just leave them alone.”
Our goal achieved. Hippos seen from a distance
We stopped two days at Kuntaur, to search (unsuccessfully) for more diesel fuel and to see the famous stone circles at Wassu, just two miles inland. We marched over in the early morning, before the sun rose too high, and inevitably collected an entourage of people, mostly children, along the way. It was startling how quickly the green foliage along the river gave way to dry savannah and surprising, too, how little the people who lived here knew about these mysterious stone monuments.
The mysterious stone circles of Wassu
“These once were houses,” proclaimed one man who had repeatedly offered to be our guide.
But this, I knew, was patently false. The red laterite cylinders, which had been carbon-dated to about 750 AD, were arranged in neat circles around grave sites that were considerably older. Similar sites have been found through out West Africa, from the Sahara as far south as Guinea, but the largest concentration by far was just here, on the north side of the Gambia. Aside from the great pyramids in Egypt, they were the only evidence of megalithic culture on the continent, and no one knew for sure who erected them.
Carie examines some beached pirogues near Kuntaur
Wreck of the Lady Denham, near Bird Island
Past Kuntaur the river turned back on itself, then flowed west for some distance through a small archipelago, the Baboon Islands, which were part of the River Gambia National Park, a nature preserve that was strictly off limits to visitors. The vegetation on shore grew even more lush and jungle-like, and while passing by in the boat we strained to catch a glimpse of chimpanzees in the trees, as we’d been told there was a troop that lived here. We had no luck, but we did see river eagles soaring high overhead and various smaller birds clothed in shocking iridescent plumage that skittered along the shore.
Soon the river turned east again, passed through another lush archipelago, the Kai-ai Islands, and arrived at MacCarthy Island and the old provincial capital of Georgetown. From the river it seemed a bedraggled, ramshackle place, but it was much larger than a village, and that in itself made it seem an important destination. The most startling thing about it was the black steel schooner we spotted anchored off its southern end, the first foreign yacht we’d seen since leaving Oyster Creek outside Banjul weeks earlier. A tattered Australian flag flew from its backstay and on its transom was a hand-carved board that had the name Black Pic inscribed upon it.
Black Pic at anchor near Georgetown
We circled the schooner hopefully, and almost immediately a head popped out the companionway–a bearded face topped with a long tangle of blonde hair.
“Meet you for drinks at sunset,” shouted the cheerful man who belonged to the face. “At the tourist camp across the river.” And he pointed to a small pier directly opposite the town.
We anchored Crazy Horse about a half mile further on and dinghied over to the pier at the appointed time. The tourist camp, which was run by Monica, a German woman, and her Gambian consort Modu, was like something out of the Swiss Family Robinson–a series of elevated platforms and dwellings hanging among the trees, illuminated by burning torches, with gangs of monkeys filtering through the surrounding foliage like a raucous wind of laughter.
We were still on the Gambia, but it seemed now we had been transported into an alternative dimension, into some ideal travel-magazine version of the river. We savored cocktails, nibbled on delicious hors d’oeuvres, and talked for hours–with Monica and Modu, the professional hostess and host; with one of their guests, a bizarre Italian woman with an intense gleam in her eye who was traveling alone across the breadth of West Africa on a three-week holiday; but mostly with Colin, our fellow sailor, master and commander of Black Pic, who had recently returned to the river after a two-year absence.
“It has infected me,” he admitted with a broad grin. “Africa is in me now, and I had to come back here.”
During his last visit, he explained, he had been overwhelmed by the simple desire to help people. He had a spare pump aboard his boat, a big gasoline-driven trash pump, and had given it to some rice farmers he met on the north bank of the river near the Kai-ai Islands.
“I showed them how to run it and how they could use it to grow twice as much rice each year by pumping river water up into their fields during the dry season.” Colin poured himself another vodka tonic, took a long sip, and settled back in his chair. “I tell you I felt like fucking Prometheus, like I’d fucking changed everything for these people. But you can guess what happened. They had one year with two good harvests, and now I come back and everything’s gone to shit. Pump’s busted, ruined for good, and everything’s exactly the same as it was before.”
Now Colin had decided to do good by helping himself. “It’s so fucking obvious!” he exclaimed. “They kill bush pigs here all the time and waste the meat, because they’re Muslims. I reckon I can buy dead pigs dead cheap, smoke the meat, pack it aboard, and sail out to the Cape Verdes to sell it. It’s an easy reach, three days or so, and they’re all Christians out there, just dying to taste some pork.”
Next morning we were awakened early by the haunting wail of a muezzin calling the devout to prayer at the mosque in town. After breakfast we went ashore, eager to explore, and were amazed. Georgetown, in spite of its dowdy appearance, seemed a fount of modern civilization. There were power lines hanging from poles, electricity everywhere, and even a public telephone outside the marketplace, where women in brightly colored shawls and robes hovered over small piles of fresh food and other commodities they offered for sale.
The marketplace at Georgetown
We soon ran into Colin, who greeted us with a great shout. “Come!” he declared. “I’ve just the lad for you to meet.” And he led us a short distance down the waterfront to a small cafe and “galary” run by a young man named Yahya. He seemed a bit bashful, with a wry smile on his face, but perked up instantly when he noticed the large plastic water jug dangling from my hand, which I’d brought along in hopes of getting it filled.
“I see there,” he said hopefully. “That looks like a very useful container. Would you like to sell it to me?”
I cannot describe what a relief it was to hear those words. We had been months now in West Africa and had met many people who wanted things from us. Not once, until now, had anyone offered to buy something from us, rather than just suggesting, or demanding, that we simply give it to them. I felt a rush of gratitude and was immediately chagrined that I could not agree to this request.
“I’m very sorry,” I explained. “But this is the only one we have, and we really need it.”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” said Yahya. “But perhaps you can lend it to me for a short time, so I can fetch some water with it.”
I said I’d be happy to, if only Yahya would show me where I could get some water myself. And from that moment on, at least as far as I was concerned, we were fast friends. Carie and I spent several hours that day talking with Yahya in his little shop and returned again the next day to talk some more. He was unlike anyone else we’d met thus far on the river–first because he was a member of the Fula tribe, rather than Mandinka or Wolof, and also because he was not at all Muslim.
He never declared this to us, but it soon became evident from his conversation. I remarked to him, for example, remembering my friend Charlie the crocodile back in Serekunda on the coast, that Yahya was the toma of Gambia’s new president, Yahya Jammeh.
“Yes, that is true,” he smiled. “I know very well I am the toma of the president, but alas he does not know he is the toma of me. But perhaps, if I am lucky, the spirits will tell him so.”
Yahya outside his shop
Yahya was also the first Gambian to offer us marijuana, rolled up in a nice fat joint, or “wrap,” as he called it. The marijuana, he explained, was grown in the Casamance in southern Senegal and was brought across the border by men who were protected by the spirits, as they carried special amulets given to them by a famous fortune-teller.
“You have met the husband of Monica, Modu, from across the river,” he explained. “He also carries such an amulet, so the spirits can protect him from being caught by Monica when he goes with other women.”
THAT EVENING Yahya invited us to have dinner with him, a meal of cous-cous he served al fresco at a small table he set up outside on the old ferry pier near his shop. After the meal he passed around a wrap, and as the pungent fumes of Casamance homegrown oozed through my consciousness, he looked at me quite intently and asked, “How is it that you find your way at sea? How do you know where to go?”
“There are satellites in the sky that tell me where I am,” I explained. “And if the satellites are broken, I can look at the sun and the stars. I have a tool I can use to measure exactly how high in the sky they are. Once I know that, I can figure out where I am.”
Yahya nodded his head carefully. “There is another way,” he announced and proceeded to tell a long involved story about a bush-pig hunt.
It seems Yahya and several other men had tracked the pig in question far out into the bush, far from the river, until they were surrounded by hills that they did not recognize. Finally, they succeeded in cornering the pig in a den at the foot of one of the hills. For a long time they threw rocks into the den, until eventually the pig came out, and they surrounded it. It was Yahya himself who administered the death blow, as he struck the beast in the head with a large stone.
Yahya then suggested, to the amazement of his companions, that they take the pig back to town to sell it. Most of the men believed the pig had no value, but Yahya insisted he knew people who would pay good money for it. After some debate, the men all agreed to this plan and skewered the pig on a long pole they cut from a tree so they could carry it more easily. The only problem was they now had no idea where they were and did not know in which direction the town lay.
“Fortunately, there was one man with us who was a soothsayer,” explained Yahya. “He said he could find the way. He took a leaf from a special tree he found and folded the leaf four times, so that one end was longer than the others. He then put a small stone inside the leaf and threw it into the air. When it fell back to the earth the man examined it to see which way the leaf was pointing, and he said this is the direction we must go. We all followed him, and he led us straight back to town!”
Yahya now had a self-satisfied look on his face, as though he had demonstrated to me an important scientific proof.
“What became of the pig?” I asked. “Were you able to sell it?”
Yahya laughed out loud. “That is the best part of the story,” he announced. “The soothsayer and I took the pig and left all the other men to wait for us. We brought the pig to our friends and together we cooked it and feasted on it and drank palm wine together all night long. The next day I told the other men that they were right, no one would buy the pig, and that we had thrown it into the river.”
And as soon as he had finished this story, Yahya then asked, out of the blue, if we would like to attend a dance.
“What sort of a dance?” I asked, a bit suspiciously, remembering the bogus calabash dance for tourists we had failed to witness in Bambale.
“It is given by the ruling government party,” explained Yahya. “To announce the nomination of the party’s candidate from Georgetown in the elections to parliament next month.”
“You mean it’s a political dance?”
“Yes, yes. It is very political. It is starting just now.”
In the distance we could hear the faint sound of a drum, interspersed with blasts from a whistle. Together the three of us walked away from the river, toward the sound, and soon found the dancing ground, in the middle of an unpaved street, beneath a single naked lightbulb dangling from a wire overhead. A single row of wooden benches had been set out in a large square around the ground, and already these were packed with people, with still more people standing behind them, all swaying in time to the music. The band consisted of just one man, a slender crooked-looking fellow with odd tufts of hair sprouting from his head, who capered about beating on a single drum hanging from a cord around his neck while simultaneously blowing on a shiny tin police whistle.
The music, which was remarkably rich and complex given its source, continued for a short time, with no one dancing to it, until suddenly there appeared a spotless white Mitsubishi pickup truck. In the back of the truck, sitting in a large upholstered armchair, was a young man wearing fancy basketball shoes, a red satin track suit, a baseball cap, mirrored sunglasses, and several gold necklaces. As soon as the truck stopped, several other men came forward, picked up the armchair out of the truck bed, and carried it and its inhabitant to a prominent space at one end of the dancing ground. As soon as they set the chair down, the music suddenly stopped. The man in the chair rose up, and the crowd cheered. The man smiled, his teeth glistening in the thin electric light, and waved grandiosely in all directions.
“This is the district commissioner,” whispered Yahya. “He is also a major in the army. He is very popular here, but the law prohibits him from speaking at political events.”
The commissioner continued waving for perhaps half a minute, while the crowd continued cheering, and then he sat down and the music at once started up again. In between beating on his drum and blowing his whistle, the one-man band started chanting a refrain. Something to the effect, as Yahya translated it, of what a great and glorious man the president was. Soon all the crowd took up the chant and the dancing started, but it wasn’t the sort of dancing I expected. There were no traditional costumes and no ceremony or ritual of discernible sort. Instead it was very much like any Western disco or school dance, where any anyone could get up and dance however they wanted.
Yahya’s toma, the president (in the red beret)
I made the mistake of swaying a bit in time to the music and in just a moment heard the familiar cry of “Tubab! Tubab!” coming from somewhere nearby. A strange woman suddenly appeared in front of me, grabbed me by the hand, and pulled me out into the dancing ground. My head still thick with the fumes of Casamance homegrown, I threw myself into the music for all I was worth. Arms and legs akimbo, I flailed about in comic style, threw myself on the ground and wriggled madly like a fish out of water. The crowd ate it up and gave me a huge cheer and a laugh as I retreated again to the sidelines.
In between the spates of dancing, like commercials on TV, there were political speeches. Instead of a PA system, there was the one-man band, who stood beside whoever was talking and repeated everything they said, only louder. The most important speech was by the woman who would be running as the ruling party’s local member of parliament. This was a huge triumph for her, Yahya explained, as she had long been the town’s most outspoken opponent of the old president and his government. Most of the other speeches were fairly anodyne, the sort of clap-trap you’d hear from politicians anywhere, except for one old man who got up and told an old folktale about farm animals who failed to tell the farmer about the rat and the lizard who were quarreling in the ceiling of the farmer’s house. The rat and the lizard fought and fought, until they had destroyed the roof of the house, and it collapsed upon the farmer’s head. The moral being (again per Yahya’s translation) that the people of Georgetown should “keep it all in the family.”
“Don’t let your troubles take you to the opposition,” warned the old man. “Talk to us, and we will help you.”
The people of Georgetown endured all this rhetoric patiently, but no one cheered the speakers too loudly, and it seemed clear that the dancing was all anyone really cared about. Once the speeches were finished, it continued unabated and the energy of the dancers grew ever more intense.
And again I made the same mistake. I was swaying a bit in time to the music, and another woman appeared in front of me and took my hand. In her other free hand she held a white shawl. I resisted at first, but Yahya laughed loudly and pushed me forward. The woman carefully tied the shawl around my waist, and we then we started dancing.
Once again, I gave it my best, dancing wildly in all directions, though I did not fall on the ground and wriggle like a fish this time, as I suspected something important was happening. When we were done, the woman darted at me, grabbed her shawl, seized it to her breast, and scampered off into the crowd like a scared rabbit.
The crowd all laughed and cheered and pointed at me.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked as I returned panting to the sidelines.
Yahya was grinning like the Cheshire cat. “You have performed a fertility dance,” he explained. “The woman you just danced with has been trying to have a baby now for 10 years. I promise you… this is very powerful magic.”
I could only laugh in response. I smiled and glanced up at the stars overhead, which were plainly visible through the thin veil of the town’s electric lighting. I started wriggling again in time to the music and prayed to the spirits that soon I might have another toma in these parts.
NOTE: This is third in a series. Check out its predecessors:
Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 7, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
That’s Raymarine’s Larry Rencken accepting the NMEA New Technology Award for the Evolution autopilot system from NMEA Director Bruce Angus (with NMEA Office Manager Cindy Love assisting). This was Evolution’s second honor in two weeks — congratulations! — as it also shared the IBEX Innovation Award for electronics, as discussed on Panbo here. Whereas I was involved in that first contest and a close observer of the various NMEA Awards, I thought I’d explain how they work and also note the other winners. No awards process I know of is perfectly fair, but these are handled quite seriously and are worthy of attention, I think.
NMEA offers Product Awards in several categories plus the single Technology Award, which is quite separate. Electronics manufacturers nominate entries for the Product Awards and traditionally they were judged by all NMEA members who cared to send back the ballot. However, the results became fairly predictable and seemed to largely reflect the high standing certain manufacturers like Furuno have with the U.S. technical dealers who dominate this trade organization. So this year NMEA tried something new by appointing 50 anonymous expert judges who were “proportionally balanced amongst dealer, manufacturer and trade members in each NMEA region.”
Manufacturers could submit one product nomination for each brand as long as it had been “available for sale in North America no earlier than January 1, 2011 and no later than June 30th, 2013.” Also, a nominated product “using NMEA 0183 as the data interface must utilize RS-422″ and one with N2K “must be NMEA 2000 certified or have been submitted for certification.” As best I can tell, the expert judges were not necessarily looking for most innovative, but rather a more general “best” product. And here are the 2013 winners in order of announcement:
Autopilot: Garmin GHP 20 Autopilot with Smart Pump (which may well be the first time Garmin won an NMEA Product award and drew large applause).
Fish Finder: Humminbird 360 Imaging (another large round of applause — perhaps partially because it was becoming clear that these Product Awards really were different — and I heard that the Furuno crew enthusiastically bought the Humminbird crew a round later that night).
Radar: Furuno TZtouch TZT14 w/ DRS4D (some things are virtually undeniable).
Communications: KVH TracPhone V3 (KVH has also built strong relationships with technical dealers, plus when the nominees were announced, I noticed all sorts of worthy products ranging from security systems to VHF radios)
Entertainment: KVH TracVision HD11
Navigation: Furuno NavNet TZtouch Black Box System
Computer-Based Software: Nobeltec Time Zero App (this was a new Product category this year and the first Product Award to an app, I think).
Marine Specialty: FLIR MD-625 Thermal Imager (another category stuffed with interesting and divergent nominees and another challenge to the experts, I suspect)
Manufacturer of the Year — Support: Furuno USA (All NMEA members could vote on this and the applause was huge as Furuno has won the category ever since it went on the ballot in 2005!)
Manufacturers can nominate the same or another product for the NMEA Technology Award except that it has to have been released for sale after June 30, 2012 (and again prior to June 30, 2013). This award is determined by three judges put forward by Boating Writers International and I know the drill well, as I was one from the award’s inception in 2009 until I rotated out after the 2011 NMEA Conference. This year’s able BWI judges were Bill Bishop, Zuzana Prochazka, and Mark Corke.
Before they even got to San Diego, the Tech Award judges got packets about each nominee product, and then they went around the conference exhibit area to review them. In some happy cases that also meant a ride on a demo boat like the ones above, and I hear that the judges really put the Evolution thru some paces (like a highspeed sharp turn). At any rate, based on the award’s stated criteria of “innovation, benefit to boaters, practicality and value,” the trio gave Evolution the nod and also awarded honorable mentions to the Nobeltec TimeZero app (my enthusiasm vindicated?) and to the Garmin quatix watch (with which I’m also very impressed, review coming).
It’s no coincidence that the IBEX (and Miami) Innovation Awards are also judged by BWI members using very similar criteria. They’re just much bigger affairs (and IBEX also allows nominees that will be released for sale within 60 days, which I think a bit dangerous). This year seven of us reviewed 59 products in more than 9 categories (we’re allowed not to give an award in a category, and we did). That meant huge boxes of brochures, samples, and USB sticks shipped around the country, then two solid days of walking the show floor as exhibitors set up their booths, and finally, some comparative Google searching and lots of spirited discussion.
Listed here are the IBEX 2013 Innovation Awards and note electronics-wise that still-innovating Fusion Marine Audio got an honorable mention in the OEM Electronics category won by Raymarine and Volvo Penta/Garmin; that Navico won in the Boatyard and Dealer Hardware/Software category for System Builder (not a consumer product, but certainly of benefit to); that ABYC won for Safety Equipment with its free Boat Essentials app; and finally, that I’ll soon put up more detail on Syntec Industries’ Smart Wheel, winner in the Deck Equipment & Hardware category. When our super-organized leader Alan Wendt hit the stage at the big IBEX opening breakfast — with silly slides profiling his fellow judges — we even got to honor a particularly compact and easy-to-install Dometic Marine Head.
A boat we met during our Pacific crossing recently finished their circumnavigation. That happens more frequently now as we have gone slowly, and those with fewer diversions or specific goals to complete a loop continue their march to the west. The post by M/V Emily Grace’s skipper reflecting on their completion sounded eerily familiar: the original source was easy to find, and it’s worth sharing again with appropriate attribution.
This trip was about simple discovery, venturing out to see the world and the people in it. Along the way we faced obstacles and challenges that only a trip like this could produce, and with no alternative but success we overcame. What we found was that the world is indeed a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. And like nearly everything in life, it is the people that make the experience and Bubbles was blessed with the best characters this world has to offer. It was a dream come true for me and If I learned anything on this trip it was that with a little luck and a lot of determination (or maybe it’s the other way around) you can make anything happen… just go for it!!
- Alex Rust, in the final post to the blog of Bubbles, 12 Sept 2012
It’s impossible not to think about our own plans while reading the inspirational words of Alex. His bias to live life to the fullest captured the hearts of many, both along the way and in the wake of his untimely passing earlier this year.
Alex’s words ring especially clearly to me today, like a tonic for the soul. I needed the lift after the days we’ve logged in marinas this last month. Tying up to docks in Malaysia has provided some great rewards: the chance to meet up with old friends, the opportunity for Jamie to work, and some epic provisioning trips with my friend Karen. For the most part, though, being parked a marina isn’t our first choice. On the east coast of Malaysia, marinas are generally isolated developments. Disconnected from local communities, they remove us from the experiences that bring wonder to our floating life- from those characters, those adventures, those interactions that great memories are made of. My joy in the journey ebbs a bit with each day tied to a dock.
But here’s the thing: the characters, the experiences, the adventures… they are not exclusive of marinas. I just need to get out and not dwell on the fact that it’s stinking hot, there’s precious little breeze, that we have a literal boatload of laundry, and we are stuck out in a dusty artificial island. That’s just window dressing.
Alex’s words also nudge me into thoughts about our own bigger plan. To be clear: we have specifically not set out a goal to circumnavigate. Our goal, if I had to encapsulate one, is to live a joyful life afloat as a family: learning, loving, sharing, exploring- as long as it’s fun, and we haven’t run out of money. Lately, it’s seemed more and more like one facet of that life afloat together could be circumnavigating. I’ve started building out folders on the computer with titles like “Morocco,” and asking friends in the Med to pass along the secret handshake for anchorages in Croatia that don’t charge $40/night.
It’s still not a goal. It’s not even a promise- not yet. Just a possibility that feels more tangible, a gift we can give each other, and in the nearer term- an inspiration to get a few more dollars into that cruising kitty.
My father has been unhospitalized, and I have resumed the aborted Fall Solo Mini-Cruise aboard Lunacy. I found this lobster yacht, provocatively named, in the cove just north of Malaga Island off Sebasco and thought it made an interesting contrast to the one discussed at the end of my post on Bustins Island. I like it much better–it obviously was once a working fishing vessel, but doesn’t pretend to be any longer. The huge barbecue behind the house is a nice touch and makes it clear what the current priorities are.
Yesterday morning I went ashore and hiked around Malaga, and was struck, as always, by the ghosts that inhabit it.
Shell midden beach left by the black and mixed-race inhabitants who were evicted by the state
An old well on the north end of the island
South end of the island, looking over to Sebasco
And looking south across Casco Bay
In the midst of my walk I found a young filmmaker with a camera, and we talked for a while. He was raised in these parts, though he now lives in San Francisco, and his step-father is descended from one of the “Malagites” that once lived on the island. He, like many others, is now actively engaged in trying to process what happened here.
A navigational note: the mast on the wreck in the cove north of Malaga is now gone, so you have to guess where the wreck is. This isn’t hard at low tide, but can be challenge when the tide is high
In the afternoon, finally, a whisper of breeze appeared. Normally when sailing in October wind is not in short supply, but this week has been perverse. The warm temperatures are very nice, but I’d rather be chilly and sailing fast. I had hoped to get east of Casco this time out, but I’m not willing to motor much to do it, so I contented myself instead sailing the short distance between Malaga and Quahog Bay in a faint sea breeze.
I found this rather unique boat anchored off the north end of Snow Island, where Dodge Morgan used to live. It looks to be a Southern Cross 31 converted to gaff rig. Very attractive, but I have to believe it would sail better under its original rig.
I don’t know who owns Snow Island now, but things are busy there. I heard lots of construction noise as I drifted past on the last cat’s paw of the day.