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BLUE PLANET TIMES 2014-09-09 11:30:15

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-09-09 12:30

G’day. As many of you know, there was a press conference last night (I mean, today) in London (London?) regarding plans for the next competition for the alleged America’s Cup, allegedly held in trust by the Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco.

The affair was attended by the skipper of the defending team, Jimmy Spithill, and the skippers of five challengers representing Italy, France, New Zealand, Sweden, and the UK. Apparently the organizational structure of the event does not presently support someone who could deliver a summary of events. Meanwhile, I have other matters on my plate and little interest in sitting through a video of the proceedings. I’ll find out soon enough. But for those who must have it now, here it is:

Of more interest to some of us, frankly, Sailing Anarchy today published the SFPD report on the death of Andrew Simpson (the Artemis breakup) along with a defense of its, shall we say, underwhelmed reporting of America’s Cup Progress.

Timing is everything.

I said that—Kimball

SINGLEHANDED CRUISING WOMEN: Liz Clark and Nike Steiger

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-09-08 23:32

Just because I’m aware of (and somewhat amused by) the fact that many, if not most women on cruising boats have been lured aboard by the men in their lives doesn’t mean I think this is proper or desirable. Au contraire. It is not nearly as common as I wish it was, but it is certainly not unheard of for women to sail boats of their own alone and unaided. Of course, we can all tick off the names of several solo women racers, but there are also a few solo women cruisers out there who aren’t nearly as well known. Everyone remembers names like Tania Aebi and Laura Dekker, but they gained their notoriety setting records. I bet not too many remember women like Julia Hazel, who built herself a boat and quietly cruised around the world on her own during the 1980s and ’90s.

Women like this are important, I think, because they serve as real-world role models for both women and men who aspire to cruise under sail–for women, because they demonstrate that women are clearly capable of sailing and maintaining a boat on their own, and for men, because they demonstrate it is possible to bring a very different mind-set to the game.

Two of the solo women cruisers I’m most interested in these days are Liz Clark (see photo up top), who sails an old Cal 40 called Swell, and Nike Steiger, who sails a twin-keeled aluminum Reinke Super 10 named Karl.

This viddy clip here, from a film called Dear & Yonder, about women surfers, gives a good sense of Liz Clark’s adventure. She was a top competitive surfer in California–the 2002 collegiate Women’s National Champion–who also had spent six months cruising Mexico with her family when she was a child. After graduating from school with a degree in Environmental Studies, she pursued a dream of skippering and cruising aboard her own boat so she could explore remote surf breaks and minimize her footprint on the planet.

Liz took off from California in 2005, has been cruising around the Pacific ever since aboard Swell, and has been blogging about it since 2008. In case you’re wondering about the “Love and the Single Cruising Girl” aspect of Liz’s journey, I recommend you start your perusal of her blog with this post here, which describes a disturbing relationship she got involved in in French Polynesia. It gives an idea of how courageous and level-headed she is.

Liz with her boat and boards, basking in the Big Blue

Another sort of aerial shot: Nike installs her homemade mast-steps

Nike Steiger is an entirely different story. She didn’t have the serious sailing and water-sports experience starting out that Liz had, but she still had a big dream about doing some cruising on her own. I wrote a bit about her last year, so check out this previous post to learn about her background and details.

I’m bringing her up again, because I’ve been faithfully following her YouTube viddy channel and continue to be amazed by her resourcefulness and tenacity.

In this installment here she tells about learning that Karl, her beloved boat that she has been struggling to prepare for sea for months, is badly corroded and riddled with holes that need repairing. She admits she’s about ready to throw in the towel, and if it had been me, frankly, I probably would have.

But she persisted! And in her most recent viddy we find her afloat and out of the boatyard at last, living the cruising life, about to strike out on a passage on her own.

What fun. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

1 Year. 25 Years. Remembering Blackaller

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-09-07 20:11

It was one year ago as of September 7 that race one of the 34th America’s Cup launched on San Francisco Bay.

It was 25 years ago on September 7 that Tom Blackaller died of a heart attack at the wheel of a race car. Being Tom, he got the car off the track and safely shut down, first.

And it was Blackaller who agitated for catamaran racing for America’s Cup, and it was Blackaller who told us, “If we ever get the America’s Cup to San Francisco Bay, we’ll show the world how good sailing can be.”

He was right.

Six-time AC competitor and two-time winner Brad Webb on Sunday took Tom’s daughter, Lisa, and her family for a fast-cat ride on San Francisco Bay. The boat, a ProSail 40 of a type that Tom raced in the 1980s, now carries the name Tomcat and on other occasions carries paying passengers on thrill rides not to be forgotten. This day was different, more focused, but also not to be forgotten. Getting under way, Lisa said, “My kids have never seen the Blackaller Buoy.” AKA YRA-16, everybody’s weather mark off Crissy Field. Later I watched Tomcat round the Blackaller Buoy, so I can tell you, that’s taken care of now.

BLACKALLER

I’ve had other occasion to recall Tom. It was the women, not Tom, who named him the Silver Fox. The first time I ever saw the guy, he was flipping a coin with Dennis Conner to decide who was the greatest sailor in the world, and it doesn’t matter how the toss came out. There were no concession speeches. In a history of his yacht club I wrote:

“He was larger than life, and there was an air of danger that followed him, like the danger surrounding the handsome, popular boy in high school who drove too fast and loved mischief; the boy that others followed because some part of them yearned to be that bold, that free, that reckless, that good.”

Tom would have been 74 now, had he lived. Lisa mused, “I wonder what he would have been like?” Leaving unspoken the thought that, like the rest of us, she cannot imagine an old, mellow Thomas David Blackaller. The Tom we knew had to go out like a meteor, leaving a trail of memories of things he had done right, and things he had done wrong. If Tom was no saint, he never committed the sin of being boring. Creating a bio for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, Roger Vaughan recalled the time that Tom finished dead last in an ocean race in Florida and deadpanned to the raised eyebrows waiting on the dock, “Oh, we stopped in Cuba for cigars.”

There also was the rivalry that carried over from Star boat racing to the America’s Cup, when Blackaller and Conner both took up the gauntlet of racing 12 Meters in Newport. And there was that night in Conner’s syndicate house when the fire alarm was ringing and sirens were blaring and Conner looked up at the anxious crew who had come to wake him and declared, “It’s Blackaller.” And he rolled over and went back to sleep.

And he was right, too.

Catamaran footage from back in the day . . .

Space on Tomcat being limited, additional guests sailed on USA 76, the Oracle Racing Boat that made it to the finals of the 2003 America’s Cup challenger eliminations, but lost to Alinghi, which went on to take the Cup. Both boats operate under Webb’s acsailingsf.com. USA 76, in particular, is out almost every day. It was a good day—Kimball

Getting online while cruising

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-09-07 11:59

How do you get online as an active cruiser?

On one hand, the prospect of cruising means freedom from the always-on, always-connected world. Liberating, right? It can be. But if you’re like me, you might get kind of twitchy. I admit: the first year was hard. It was used to instant gratification for simple tasks. Before long, though, we became accustomed to going without access, and changing the way we consume media to minimizing our use when we could get online.

At the moment, we’ve lucked into a great internet connection. Scoring a login to wifi from the hotel fronting Totem’s marina berth means we have a window of unlimited data on a pretty good signal. The options were suddenly overwhelming, and I posted a “what should we read/watch/download” plea to Totem’s Facebook page, because really, we’re just not in tune with popular media. Among the responses (great ideas, thank you!) was a question: how do we usually get online? So Andrew M., this is for you!

Hello, mobile world

This isn’t intended as a review of all options available, but a window into what we do- as cruisers who want to stay connected. What we do has evolved a lot over the last six years, and I expect it will continue to change with technology. For the last few years, we’ve gotten online almost exclusively by purchasing pre-paid data plans from the mobile network of whatever country we’re in. It’s easy to pick up a SIM card and a data package on arrival, and here in Southeast Asia, cell towers are nearly ubiquitous. With access to that network, it’s not a problem to get online just about everywhere.

You need to have something to put that SIM card in, of course. We use a small portable modem that creates wifi on board for multiple devices to connect. With a smartphone, you can turn it into a hotspot and use a single SIM to get both local phone and online access. Otherwise, a cheaper option is a dongle that just plugs into your computer. The modems are easy to find at retail outlets for mobile service.

What does it cost? The SIM cards are usually just a few dollars, and for about $20 in this region, we get a 30-day data package of four or five gigabytes. There’s no streaming Netflix or ESPN at that price (and often, at the available bandwidth), but it’s fine for weather, news, email, and a good dose of surfing. And, it works just about everywhere we’ve sailed from Indonesia through Thailand.

What about at sea?

When we’re at sea, or countries like Papua New Guinea where mobile networks are scarce, we use our HF radio.  With Airmail and a Pactor  modem, we can get weather from internet sources, pick up news, send and receive email, and update our blog, Facebook, twitter, etc. It’s text only- no pictures!- and the speed is excruciatingly slow, but it gets the job done. It is tremendous to be able to stay in touch from literally the middle of nowhere.

computer lessons on an island without roads, power, water, or a mobile network – PNG

Then there’s Wifi

In 2008, one of the last things we did before sailing south of the border was buy a wifi booster antenna. This was really helpful during our first year in Mexico, since we were often near areas with wifi signals (gringo tourists and hotspots go together) and if we stayed in a spot more than a few days, we could suss out a good network. Most are locked, but buying access directly or patronizing the host business translated internet at anchor later. Then, the Banda Ancha (broadband) service started. When you’re on the move, it’s easier to go with this mobile network service than hunt a decent hotspot when you move to a new place.

finding wifi at a restaurant fronting the anchorage – Mexico

The wifi booster antenna was really helpful for us in parts of the Pacific. French Polynesia had private services with coverage in popular anchorages. It wasn’t cheap, but it was internet access, and anchor in some of the most spectacular places we’ve cruised! I didn’t look into mobile broadband plans back then, and it might be an option now- but from what we hear, most boats do the same thing we did four years ago.

Atuona, Hiva Oa. Insanely expensive and slow, but hey, there was wifi!

In Australia, there weren’t any wifi networks to take advantage of (at least, not affordably) so we switched to broadband mobile. At some point the wifi setup succumbed to the marine environment and we took it down.

Don’t you have a satellite phone?

There’s also an Iridium phone on Totem but buying plans for it come at a high cost, so casual use just isn’t in our budget. However, we anticipate getting a data package before we head across the Indian Ocean next year. For now, we just charge it up once a month and then stash it back in a locker.

If I could add to our setup…

We’re thinking about getting a wifi booster on Totem again, although we haven’t decided yet. Data is relatively inexpensive around here, but I believe the costs and complications will hike when we’re in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. It could also coe in handy next year when we hop through a few countries more quickly than we have been lately, as an alternative to picking up a SIM. I’m also thinking about a booster for cellular signals, to get better use from local networks. For now, though, these are both luxury items that don’t fit in our budget.

Bottom line

If your habits today include streaming entertainment, online gaming, or other high bandwidth fun…there’s a change waiting for you when you start actively cruising! Unless you have deep pockets, the kind of access that’s a basic utility in most suburban homes will go away. If you’re in a country or locality long enough you can tap into postpaid plans that are more affordable, but then you’re probably not cruising anymore.  But for the active cruiser, it’s not such a big deal. You’ll have plenty of new ways to satisfy your needs, and that twitch will go away eventually.

Connected followers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

Accounting For My Time While Waiting For A Visa

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-09-07 00:09

Waiting for our visas to Papua New Guinea is taking forever.  So, what have we been doing in the meantime?

1. Swimming.

2. Going to the park. 3. Preparing for the apocalypse. 4. Looking at giant squid. 5. Braiding anything that stands still long enough. 6. More swimming. 7. Ferris wheeling. 8. Riding the City Hopper free ferry. 9. Hula hooping. 10. Looking at chopped-up orcas and oversized angler fish. 11. School. (not pictured) Call me jaded, but I am bored as stink.  Get me into the jungle, ASAP.

Kids can have big dreams

Sail Feed - Sat, 2014-09-06 15:35

I was a sophomore in High school. I was a percussionist in the school band. I played the snare drum. I was getting “creative” one day in band class when the teacher, a bit of a numb skull, announced that I was now kicked out of the band. Wait till I tell my parents. I was marched off to the office where I sat down with the vice principal while he tried to decide where to put me. It was half way through the quarter and the potential class choices were minimal. “We’ll put you in mechanical drawing.” ” Cool” I thought. I had always liked to draw.

Off I was marched to the mechanical drawing classroom which was a very interesting classroom. It had drawing boards, drafting tools and Mr Kibby. Mr. Kibby was about 6’5″ and 300 lbs. We affectionately called him “the walrus” because of all his chins. But we all liked him. He had a firm and gentle way with rambunctious boys in an all boy class. He kept a tight ship without threatening us. I took to mechanical drawing. In about two weeks I owned that class. Me and a kid named Jay Spearman. Jay was very quiet. But there was no mistaking the fact that we challenged each other to be the first to finish each drafting assignment and to turn out the best work. Before long Mr. Kibby arranged for me to buy my own drafting board, about 30″ by 40″, a T square and a couple of triangles. I had a job after school and I had the money and buying through the school I was able to get the drafting gear pretty cheaply. I wanted to pursue mechanical drawing at home. I credit Mr. Kibby with almost everything I learned about drafting. ” It’s all about line weight Perry” he’d say. “Lettering! lettering! Work on your lettering Perry!” Mr. Kibby was a great guy.

So, there I sat with my little drafting board and my new drafting gear. What should I draw? I had just started sailing. I was quickly getting interested in sailing yachts. ” I know, I’ll draw a boat!” What I drew was my version of a Civil War iron clad battleship. I had no curves and the MERRIMAC type shape lent itself to using a straight edge, But before long I realized that I really wanted to design boats. I had seen a cover of POPULAR BOATING that had a nice cover shot of a Chesapeake 32 on it. I looked at that Rhodes design and to my 15 year heart I thought I had never, ever seen anything quite so beautiful designed by man. “I must do this.” I slowly began buying drafting gear suitable to draw boats. I still have the very first French curve I ever bought. They cost $3.50 each back in those days and I’d save my dough so I could buy them. The full set was about $120 dollars and came in a beautiful wooden chest. $120 was not within my reach but one at a time I collected a good set of curves. But curves limit you to their curves. Sometimes you want a curve that doesn’t exist on a rigid ships curve. I tried some flexible curves but they didn’t work worth a damn. You just couldn’t get a fair line with them. Something was missing in my drafting gear arsenal.

One day I was reading SEA MAGAZINE, an article about a hydroplane designer, Stan Jones, had caught my attention. There was a photo of Stan at his drawing board. Across the top of the drawing board were these “things”. “What the hell are those things?” They looked kind of like whales with prongs stuck in their faces. He had about a dozen of them all in a row. ” What ARE they? I found out later they were spline weights and used to draw curved lines when used with a flexible spline

(See the blog entries on old drafting gear). Spline weights were expensive, $3.50 each and you really needed about ten of them to draw a reasonably long curved line. Shit! That’s $35 That’s not going to happen.  But one by one I began buying spline weights with the money I earned working at Ray’s Meat Market. My parents gave me three weights one Christmas. To me that was a huge gift. I still have all those old spline weights. They are very well used.

Then my geometry teacher Don  Miller became aware that I was drawing boats during class. Like Mr. Kibby he was a kind guy who probably realized that I was not a worthless screw up but a kid that needed some directing. Mr. Miller suggested I join the Corinthian Junior Yacht Club and start sailing My earliest sailing adventures had involved really crummy rental boats and some near disastrous misadventures usually with my non sailing friend along, Jim Barnaby. ” Are you sure this is the way you are supposed to do it?” ” No.” Then Don Miller suggested I call Bill Garden and arrange to visit his office so I could see what I real yacht designer did. I called Mr. Garden, “Call me Bill” and my Dad dropped me off at his office one Saturday morning. I was 15 years old. I showed Bill some of my drawings and he was kind in his response. Bill took me to lunch (you can read the French fry story in my book) and sent me hitch hiking  home with a big roll of some old prints he had laying around. To me they were veritable treasures. I would visit Bill from time to time. Bill didn’t really coach me on designing boats but offered some encouragement and he answered my questions. He’d usually say, “Buy a copy of Skene’s” and let it go at that. But for me to be in Bill’s presence was like walking alongside Buddha. I absorbed.

Tom Larsen in the process of building my new fabulous web site urged me to go through my old files. I always do what Tom says. Rummaging around I found a tube marked “Historic 1″. I opened the tube up and found a roll of old drawings going back to when I was 17 years old. I have older drawings and I suspect there may be another tube marked “Historic 2″ with the older drawings. But as I unrolled these old drawings a couple thoughts crossed my mind. I was blown away by the love, care and craftsmanship these drawings showed. Sure I drew them. But I no longer know that kid so it’s not like it’s me complimenting me. Is it?. I have distanced myself from that high school kid by 51 years.

So now we can cue up the soundtrack for this blog entry, MY BACK PAGES by Bob Dylan,  for dramatic effect,  BYRDS version, this verse works best for my purpose here:

All together now!

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Bass riff fade,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

I’ll give you a tour through some of my very earliest design efforts. Remember, I was a kid without a tutor or teacher. I was learning from reading magazines and books. I was learning by asking questions of anybody I met who knew sailing.  If I had met me back then I would have taken me under my wing and tried my best to help this, tall and skinny, weird kid who wanted to be a yacht designer. Thanks for looking at this stuff.

 

Here’s a good one to get started with. (above) Not sure what I was thinking with any of these but this one looks pretty good today. I see a spade rudder on an obviious cruign boat. That was a bit radical 1964. I was 17 years old. Sheer and profile look alright.

This ketch shows the very beginnings of my work that eventually lead to the CT 54 design. Yes there is too much rake to the masts but it does look “rakish” doesn’t it? All in all I think the proportions aren’t bad and the strong sheer sprig is attractive.

This little gaff sloop has attracted a bit of attention in the past two days. I have one fellow who wants to buy my original drawing. I told him $2,500 and ‘m sticking to that price. This is ART damn it! Look at that sheerline. I sure wasn’t afraid to bend that batten back in those days.  I think this little hooker would probably sail quite well. I would add roller furling to that jib. My “widow maker” sprit is a bit daunting.

Here I am, back in the tail end days of the CCA rule. It looks like I was trying to channel Bill Tripp with this drawing. It look all right to me today considering I was a kid. Rig looks like it is in the right place.

I think this is probably the oldest of the drawings presented here. Clearly I was doing my best “Phil Rhodes” impression. That’s OK. Much of my early work involved trying to imitate the design of a famous designer. In doing so I was trying to get a feel for each designer’s drafting and design style. Like a piano student playing Bach’s WELL TEMPERED CLAVIER. It appears I was working hard on my lettering. I give me an A- for lettering. I think Mr. Kibby might have given me an A.

This double ender is pure “Bob’s fantasy”. I would dream of having a double ender and sailing around the world looking for a Viking Princess to marry. I eventually found on. But she was working at Ray’s Boathouse, across the street from my Shilshole office. We married and had two fabulous boys and now we have two grand children. I still don;t have my salty double ender though. Now I am getting serious. I put some real effort into this drawing. I was clearly very heavily influenced by Bill Garden’s SEAL ketch. That’s OK, I was young and looking for inspiration. Who better to try to copy than Garden? If you squint you might see the eventual origins of the Valiant 40 in this drawing. Yes, I also was working hard to learn how to draw hull lines. It was a challenge at first but I had the time and the energy so I stuck with it and learned the process required to produce a fair hull form. This is a 12′ ferro cement dinghy. The keel sweep is straight from C&C. The rudder is no good at all but the foil is correct. With the table of offsets and the care that went into preparing this drawing it is obvious I was starting to take my modest effort seriously. Why did I publish these old drawings? Pure self indulgence, I guess. I just enjoy looking at them and I thought they might also entertain sailors who are interested in the evolution of yacht design and how students of the craft develop their skills. I hope you had a chuckle. I did.

2014 ROUND ISLAND REGATTA: An Embarrassing and Provocative Outcome

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-09-05 19:07

I have been tardy in reporting on what happened at the fourth annual Round Island Regatta, held Saturday, August 23, right here in Portsmouth, NH, both because the regatta’s media department has been very slow getting photos to me and because I am a bit embarrassed by the results. After missing last year’s event, I managed again to get Mimi, our trusty 15-foot Drascombe Dabber, to the start line this year. And no, I did not manage to sail her any faster than the other boats (quite the opposite). This distinction went to Class 1 (Sail) winner Joie Paciulli, seen in the photo up top displaying her winning form aboard her banged-up old Banshee. The Banshee proved an ideal boat for the conditions (weight is just 120 pounds with 82 sq.ft. of sail area), which were very light, and Joie (daughter of Bruno Paciulli, head sailing instructor at the Kittery Point Yacht Club) handled it expertly, easily besting the other 34 sailboats in the fleet, which included a Hobie 16 catamaran.

The embarrassing bit has to do in part with my performance on Mimi, which was execrable. I do have a couple of excuses to trot out: a) we were very heavy this year, with three adults and one child onboard; and b) Mimi‘s archaic sprit rig doesn’t work well in very light wind. This led to us sometimes move backwards for extended periods (most noticeably right at the start), thanks to the very strong current. But also I made some truly terrible tactical decisions trying to get around the windward mark, which was, as one competitor described it, “like trying to round Cape Horn,” thanks again to the strong current and fickle breeze. During the first two laps of the course I so misjudged the line to the mark that I twice had to jibe around for another go. Only on the third and final lap did I manage to get around in one attempt.

The other embarrassing fact is that I was actually rewarded for this pitiful effort. Being primarily a non-competitive event, the RIR recognizes only first-place line-honors winners in its three different classes (Classes 2 and 3 are for paddle- and oar-powered craft) and also grants awards to the “Handsomest Boat and Crew” in each class. The grandest prize, which features bestowal of a perpetual trophy plate, is the Sportsmanship Award, “which is presented to the individual whose behavior and seamanship best exemplify the spirit of the regatta.”

Thanks primarily to Tom Brown, of Great Bay Marine, who served as the regatta’s Master of Ceremonies and Color Commentator and regaled the audience with an ongoing comic description of my misadventures on the race course, I was selected as the grand prize winner this year. And really I can’t even say I was honestly a good sport about being the butt of Tom’s stream of abuse, as most of the time I couldn’t even hear it.

So, as I say, thanks to Tom, my name is now being inscribed on the trophy plate, which I get to keep for a year, and I have received (from regatta sponsor Timberland) an absolutely enormous stainless steel quartz watch that could easily serve as an anchor for Mimi.

The watch in question, which was presented to me by Carin Frisk, wife of Timberland CEO Peter Frisk

The sailors mix it up at their class start

Publisher Joe Burke (in yellow hat) and editor Nim Marsh (in red hat), of Points East magazine, the event’s media sponsor, prepare to compete in Joe’s sailing dinghy Scallywag

MC Tom Brown hard at work insulting me

The race committee takes it easy

A Le Mans start for the paddlers

Paddlers in the heat of competition

Sorry, but I don’t have any pix of us sailing in this year’s event. This is what we looked like sailing in the 2012 event, in which we finished second. Mimi also raced in the inaugural event in 2011, in which there were no winners, as the race committee failed to notice who crossed the line first

For a complete list of this year’s winners check here. The regatta this year was a smash success, with 65 entrants in the two paddling classes and 35 entrants in the sail class. Proceeds were donated to the Wentworth Lear Historic Houses, which hosted the prize-giving party.

Many thanks to Robin Normandeau of Chandler’s Loft and Charles Lassen of SEMOSA, the event’s primary organizers, and to the many sponsors: Timberland, Points East Magazine, Piscataqua Savings Bank, People’s United Bank, DeStefano Architects, Keller Williams Realty, Back Channel Canvas Shop, Ellis Insurance Agency, Jackson’s Hardware and Marine, Philbrick’s Fresh Market, Red Hook Brewery, Sanders Lobster Co., Aileen Dugan, Esther’s Marina, Honda Barn, and UBS.

Thanks, also, to Hunter Normandeau for providing most of those pix up there!

2014 ROUND ISLAND REGATTA: An Embarrassing and Provocative Outcome

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-09-05 19:07

I have been tardy in reporting on what happened at the fourth annual Round Island Regatta, held Saturday, August 23, right here in Portsmouth, NH, both because the regatta’s media department has been very slow getting photos to me and because I am a bit embarrassed by the results. After missing last year’s event, I managed again to get Mimi, our trusty 15-foot Drascombe Dabber, to the start line this year. And no, I did not manage to sail her any faster than the other boats (quite the opposite). This distinction went to Class 1 (Sail) winner Joie Paciulli, seen in the photo up top displaying her winning form aboard her banged-up old Banshee. The Banshee proved an ideal boat for the conditions (weight is just 120 pounds with 82 sq.ft. of sail area), which were very light, and Joie (daughter of Bruno Paciulli, head sailing instructor at the Kittery Point Yacht Club) handled it expertly, easily besting the other 34 sailboats in the fleet, which included a Hobie 16 catamaran.

The embarrassing bit has to do in part with my performance on Mimi, which was execrable. I do have a couple of excuses to trot out: a) we were very heavy this year, with three adults and one child onboard; and b) Mimi‘s archaic sprit rig doesn’t work well in very light wind. This led to us sometimes move backwards for extended periods (most noticeably right at the start), thanks to the very strong current. But also I made some truly terrible tactical decisions trying to get around the windward mark, which was, as one competitor described it, “like trying to round Cape Horn,” thanks again to the strong current and fickle breeze. During the first two laps of the course I so misjudged the line to the mark that I twice had to jibe around for another go. Only on the third and final lap did I manage to get around in one attempt.

The other embarrassing fact is that I was actually rewarded for this pitiful effort. Being primarily a non-competitive event, the RIR recognizes only first-place line-honors winners in its three different classes (Classes 2 and 3 are for paddle- and oar-powered craft) and also grants awards to the “Handsomest Boat and Crew” in each class. The grandest prize, which features bestowal of a perpetual trophy plate, is the Sportsmanship Award, “which is presented to the individual whose behavior and seamanship best exemplify the spirit of the regatta.”

Thanks primarily to Tom Brown, of Great Bay Marine, who served as the regatta’s Master of Ceremonies and Color Commentator and regaled the audience with an ongoing comic description of my misadventures on the race course, I was selected as the grand prize winner this year. And really I can’t even say I was honestly a good sport about being the butt of Tom’s stream of abuse, as most of the time I couldn’t even hear it.

So, as I say, thanks to Tom, my name is now being inscribed on the trophy plate, which I get to keep for a year, and I have received (from regatta sponsor Timberland) an absolutely enormous stainless steel quartz watch that could easily serve as an anchor for Mimi.

The watch in question, which was presented to me by Carin Frisk, wife of Timberland CEO Peter Frisk

The sailors mix it up at their class start

Publisher Joe Burke (in yellow hat) and editor Nim Marsh (in red hat), of Points East magazine, the event’s media sponsor, prepare to compete in Joe’s sailing dinghy Scallywag

MC Tom Brown hard at work insulting me

The race committee takes it easy

A Le Mans start for the paddlers

Paddlers in the heat of competition

Sorry, but I don’t have any pix of us sailing in this year’s event. This is what we looked like sailing in the 2012 event, in which we finished second. Mimi also raced in the inaugural event in 2011, in which there were no winners, as the race committee failed to notice who crossed the line first

For a complete list of this year’s winners check here. The regatta this year was a smash success, with 65 entrants in the two paddling classes and 35 entrants in the sail class. Proceeds were donated to the Wentworth Lear Historic Houses, which hosted the prize-giving party.

Many thanks to Robin Normandeau of Chandler’s Loft and Charles Lassen of SEMOSA, the event’s primary organizers, and to the many sponsors: Timberland, Points East Magazine, Piscataqua Savings Bank, People’s United Bank, DeStefano Architects, Keller Williams Realty, Back Channel Canvas Shop, Ellis Insurance Agency, Jackson’s Hardware and Marine, Philbrick’s Fresh Market, Red Hook Brewery, Sanders Lobster Co., Aileen Dugan, Esther’s Marina, Honda Barn, and UBS.

Thanks, also, to Hunter Normandeau for providing most of those pix up there!

Podcast: Adam Buxton’s Drunken Sailor

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-09-05 00:00

Sometimes doing the right thing pays off. I was going to just publish this, but in the middle of the night one night decided I’d better ask Dr. Buckles himself if I could use it. I’d want others to do the same with my work. So, not expecting a reply from a comedian of Adam Buxton’s stature, I asked anyway, on Twitter. He immediately responded and said it’d be fine to use it! So thanks Adam! Check him out, one of my favorite comedians, on adam-buxton.co.uk or on Twitter @adambuxton, and enjoy his version of the classic Drunken Sailor song on today’s Essay Friday!

With gratitude for Liebster award blog recognition

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-09-04 12:53

A few months back, we were nominated for a Liebster award. This award is a personal nod from one blogger to another in appreciation of their work, asking them to answer questions and share the names of blogs they in turn find inspiring. I was flattered, but I ducked (wha…? me?). But then there was a successive nomination, and when a third came in conjunction with a flurry of new visitors to the blog this last week- it seemed the right time to step back, look to the source, and answer some questions about who we are, what we’re doing, and why. With gratitude to Lyndy of Homeschool Ahoy, Tammy from Things We Did Today, and Genevieve of It’s Our Necessity – answers to each of your questions  in turn below.

It’s Our Necessity (SY Necesse)

1) Describe yourself in 5 words. No more, no less.

I live on a boat.

2) What do you blog about? What do you NOT blog about?

Traveling, adventure, alternative lifestyle, family and sailing! I don’t avoid any particular subjects, although I leave out what we eat for breakfast and every detail of every boat project, and tend not to dwell on the negative.

3) You have $10 US to spend, what is the first thing you buy?

A family meal out! Yes, for all five of us. Southeast Asia, where we are now, has excellent and cheap restaurants…we couldn’t afford to eat off the boat in most of the Pacific, and appreciate very much the chance to do so here.

4) What is the worst travel spot you have been to?

Kumai, Kalimantan (Borneo) – it’s one of most wildly awesome places we’ve visited, with everything from orangutans to stick bugs. But massive clear cutting for palm oil plantations and waterways poisoned with mercury from illegal gold mining made it heartbreaking to see. It is the best for what it is now, and the worst for what it is becoming.

5) What is your favourite saying/slang/term you have picked up through your travels?

“OK, OK, OK” – always in triplicate. We first remember hearing it in Papua New Guinea; it’s still common thousands of miles across Southeast Asia. It’s become part of our lexicon.

6) If you were invited to a dress up party what costume would you wear?

After 6 years cruising, there is nothing in my onboard wardrobe would pass at a costume party, except perhaps Beach Bum.

7) What is your favourite drink (alcoholic or not)?

Oh, I do love a kir. And, it’s been a while. A long while!

8) How much wine is too much?

This is a question?

9) What are you afraid of?

Palm oil, plastic trash, big ships with nobody at the helm, and lightning.

10) If you could have one wish granted, what would you ask for?

Can we have a return to a healthy ocean, with sustainable fisheries and clean water? No? Then I’ll take seeing our happy children maturing into happy adults that strive to make their world a better place.

Things We Did Today (SV Dos Libras)

1. What is the one thing you wish more people knew about you? Don’t be afraid to brag here… this is your chance!

I’m not afraid to ignore the common understanding of things. I like to do my own research to arrive at my own conclusions.

2. If you could have EITHER five minutes with a crystal ball OR five minutes with a Genie… which would you choose and what would you ask for?

I’d jump to Genie, starting with a wish to instill in all people, an immutable sense of respect for each other and ending with healthy global ecosystems…and about ten others wishes in between. I can talk very fast!

3. What would you say is your partner’s greatest contribution to your success (current or future) as sailors/cruisers?

Patience and respect.

4. When did you REALLY consider yourself to be a Cruiser? What does the word “Cruiser” mean to you?

The first inkling was several months into our cruising life, when we sailed south across the border and raised our Mexican courtesy flag. At that moment, I became an explorer on a long journey. In Bahia Tortuga a week or so later it truly sank in. Our children were playing in a tide pool, making friends across languages. Our high school Spanish had been resurrected sufficiently to order up a simple, unforgettable meal. We had made it on our own bottom to be in a beautiful place that was far from our original reality, past some invisible point of no return, and it was everything we hoped for.

5. What do you think will be the thing that ends your Cruising journey? And why?

With a nod to Lin & Larry, we hope to be cruising “as long as it’s fun.” Of course, we also have to stay solvent, and with five on board “fun” needs to include everyone- not just me, or Jamie, or a majority. We expected that a desire for normal, grounded living would pull one of our kids to choose land over sea, but they’re on board as much as we are.

6. What was it like the moment that you “decided” to go cruising? What was the catalyst? Or was it a more gradual thing that just happened?

We were always going to go cruising…someday. The year our second child was born, we lost Jamie’s mother. She had just retired, full of hopes and dreams, and was much too young to go. It brought our priorities into sharp focus. What were we waiting for? We made a five year plan, and left.

7. How did your current boat get its name? Have you ever thought of changing it?

She was named Don’t Look Back, a nod to the prior owner’s personal life. It wasn’t for us, so we changed it. We kicked around ideas for awhile (it’s harder than naming a child!). One day Jamie called from work, excited about a name idea. It was Totem, and happily, it still is.

8. What size boat do you/will you cruise on? And if money were no object… would you buy a bigger one.

Totem is 47’ of fun. A bigger boat, probably yes; but not necessarily more length. A wider transom, more freeboard, and more volume in the bow would give more storage and living space with making Totem harder to sail or more expensive.

9. It is often said that before you leave, everyone says they will come visit you, but most never do. Who would you MOST like to come visit you on your boat and why?

Jamie’s mother, to thank her for her sacrifice in making someday happen.

10. Thinking back to before you tossed the dock lines and how you thought cruising would be, what in reality was your biggest misconception? What was your biggest surprise? What was your biggest disappointment? (If you haven’t yet set sail, what do you think WILL Be your biggest adjustments? Sacrifices? Joys?)

I knew it would be trading financial security for family. I had concern that we would struggle at times being around each other all day, every day. We have our moments, but they are rare; and the family time is worth so much more than the financial security that we gave up. My biggest surprise was how much the kids learn by traveling. All the worry about how well the kids would learn onboard, is long gone. My biggest disappointment is that we cannot get to everyplace that we’d like – but happy to try.

Homeschool Ahoy (SV Katsumi)

1. Introduce us to your live aboard family, how many in your crew and how old are they?

Well, there is my husband Jamie and I, both somewhere in our roaring 40’s. Our children are Niall (15), Mairen (12), and Siobhan (10).

2. What sort of boat do you have and would you recommend it for other families hoping to live aboard?

Totem is a Stevens 47 (Sparksman & Stephens design). I do recommend this design for being robustly built while maintaining good performance, being excellent value, easy to handle, and with good kid-friendly space.

3. How did you come to the decision to live aboard?

Covered above.

4. Where are you now and what are your sailing plans, if you have any, for the future?

We are in western Malaysia. The near term is cruising between here Thailand until January, then heading west across the Indian Ocean to South Africa- we expect to arrive there in late 2015. It gets fuzzy after that, but we have a fifteen year old who is “dying” to see the Mediterranean…

5. What’s the best learning experience your kids have had since living aboard that you could pass on to other sailing families for them and their children?

That we are all learning, all the time: it is not something you turn on and off, but the fuel for a lifetime of adventure.

6. What style of education do you prefer for your littlest crew members, are you homeschooling/world schooling/unschooling… or eclectic like me? Have they ever been or will they ever go to a traditional school?

I really don’t like labels for out-of-school learning, because they are all loaded terms. We – all Totem’s crew - learn from the world around us, guided by our passions and interests, and the things we need to achieve our goals.

7. What’s your best memory from the last year?

There are too many great memories to choose just one. They all involve family and friends and a beach, hike, swim, local food, or sundowner.  These aren’t weekend or vacation events, but everyday occurrences – and that’s the beauty of this lifestyle.

8. Name the most challenging experience you have had whilst living aboard and what did you do to overcome it?

Hard to choose between being stung in the neck by a scorpion while in a remote part of one of the oldest cultures on earth (Papua New Guinea) or being awakened by a rat jumping down hatch onto my body. Life is filled with unpleasant surprises, and you just have to deal with the moment and move on.

9. Will you always live aboard or is this just one of the many adventures you hope to share with your family?

Impossible to say, but we have no foreseeable plans to change what we’re doing.

10. What motivates you to blog and what tips can you offer fellow yachty bloggers?

I blog to inspire and motivate other people to follow their dreams for an adventurous life. Hearing from readers with dreams I’ve helped feed, or helped cross the hurdles to live differently, is a tremendous reward. For other yachty bloggers, go from the heart, and only if it feeds your soul as well too: you can’t force it.

Thank you.

A cliche, but it’s true: it’s an honor to be nominated. I’m grateful for the recognition, and for the opportunity to be a little part in helping others fulfill their dreams to live differently. It’s one my primary motivations to keep writing. The Liebster tradition is to nominate others, but the blogging world for cruisers is pretty small, and there are nominations already in and shared for most of my faves already. So instead of punting back, I’m just going to say: there are some beautiful, inspiring blogs out there. I keep my favorites listed on our links page, and I hope you’ll turn there- and to my nominators, Genevieve, Tammy, and Lyndy, to find your own further inspiration. And DANG, but you are lucky to have a wealth to draw from! The handful of blogs in our pre-cruising days are dwarfed by the awesome writing and images coming out now. If there was ever fodder to feed a dream…

Reading this post on the Sailfeed website tosses change into our cruising funds: thank you!

LABOR DAY WEEKEND CRUISE: Lasers and Dogs From Outer Space

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-09-02 18:47

As is traditional, our annual Labor Day excursion got off to a late start. But after we finally dropped Lunacy‘s mooring pennant in Portland harbor on Saturday afternoon, we instantly found ourselves embroiled in the Laser Atlantic Coast Championship Regatta (see photo up top), which was quite exciting. As far as I know we didn’t actually get in anyone’s way.

If you were there racing that day and have a different opinion, please feel free to correct me on that.

Due to lack of time we didn’t get too far after we extracted ourselves from the race fleet. I thought Cliff Island would be a good bet, given the strong southerly wind and our desire to get in a walk before sunset, so we pulled in there and dropped anchor on the west side of the bay on the island’s north side, away from the overly crowded mooring field on the east side.

Now is as good a time as any for me to offer a small amendment to my first very informative post on this destination: i.e., it can get a tad rolly in here when there’s a strong swell running in from the southeast, as there was throughout our weekend, thanks to the doings, I believe, of Hurricane Cristobal, which had just passed by many many miles offshore in that direction.

Cristobal in action the day before we headed out

Before we went ashore Lucy insisted on being hauled up the mast in the bosun’s chair, but didn’t want to go too far, due to the rolling motion of the boat. Which at least was one advantage to having anchored here.

On shore our walk was immediately interrupted by yet another climb, this one up a tree, which was not rolling.

We ended up hiking the entire length of the island’s eastern spur. We first walked down to the south point, which has a great view of neighboring Jewell Island. Then Lucy suddenly suffered an energy deficit and refused to walk anywhere but back to the dinghy, so Clare sat with her for a bit while I walked up to the north point on my own.

This was a fantastic trail, leading right along the edge of a low cliff facing east, and I was about halfway along it when suddenly a dog appeared. A highly energetic one, a German shorthair retriever, wearing a yellow lifejacket and a weird electronic device on its collar. It ran in circles around for me a moment, then shot off up the trail in the direction it had come from. I followed after it, thinking I would soon meet it and its owner at the end of the trail on the north point. But when I got there, where the trail dead-ended in a lovely grassy spot bordered by cliffs on all sides, there was no sign of the dog.

When I walked back to where Clare and Lucy were and reported I had met a strange dog from outer space that had disappeared into thin air and maybe they could help me find it again, Lucy suddenly became re-energized and was very willing to walk the trail. We didn’t find the dog, but I did snap a nice photo of Clare and Lucy standing on the north point facing west with the anchorage in the background. (See above, and please note the depth of field is skewed a bit. Those rocks to the right of the grass are actually at the foot of a 12-foot cliff.)

The next day, after another walk ashore, we sailed from Cliff Island up to the head of Quahog Bay, to the anchorage around Snow Island, where we planned to hook up with our friends David and Catherine, a pair of novice sailors who were out on their very first cruise together. They got there first and let us know by cellphone that they’d picked up a mooring with another empty mooring right behind it.

Our route from Cliff Island up to Snow Island. The wind was south-southwest, blowing between 20 and 5 knots, depending on our position and the apparent wind angle. We sailed the whole way and did the long DDW bit wing-and-wing without a pole

David and Catherine aboard their new (to them) Ericson

So we picked up that empty mooring, hopped in our dinghy, buzzed over to say a quick hey to David and Catherine, then dinghied all the way across the very large anchorage and up Orrs Cove to Great Island Boat Yard, where we hoped to visit the fabulous Wheelhouse Cafe so as to feed certain crew members who had been too seasick to eat lunch on the boat.

We were mortified to discover the cafe had gone out of business. But the boatyard, in spite of my warning that we weren’t on one of their moorings and that they were making exactly zero dollars off us, loaned us their enormous pickup truck so we could drive down the road to another spot. We were almost there when suddenly my cellphone rang. It was David, who had called to say the owner of the mooring we picked up had just appeared and wanted his mooring back.

Gack!

Long story short: we aborted the cafe run, returned the truck, dinghied all the way back to Lunacy, only to learn the rightful owners of the mooring were Will and Halcyon on Squombus, a Regina 38, who I had met 10 years earlier at the Newport boat show, right after they bought their boat and were representing Regina Yachts in North America.

Will on Squombus the following morning. Regina Yachts now is also out of business, but Squombus is for sale, in case you’re interested

This is about the best outcome you can hope for in a situation like this, and I had a very nice time catching up with the Squombites after I moved Lunacy to yet another empty mooring. We also had a fine meal aboard with David and Catherine that evening, but next morning woke to very dense fog.

We amused ourselves climbing the rig and what-not until finally it lifted and then we started out back to Portland.

Alas, we saw not a shred of wind the entire way, and some crew members got so sick of motoring they had to resort to playing cards on the liferaft to amuse themselves.

POSTSCRIPT: About that mysterious dog on Cliff Island–we did actually see it again, the following morning, on a trawler yacht in the anchorage. I reckon it must have jumped off that cliff and run back to its owner, who was waiting in a dinghy nearby.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND CRUISE: Lasers and Dogs From Outer Space

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-09-02 18:47

As is traditional, our annual Labor Day excursion got off to a late start. But after we finally dropped Lunacy‘s mooring pennant in Portland harbor on Saturday afternoon, we instantly found ourselves embroiled in the Laser Atlantic Coast Championship Regatta (see photo up top), which was quite exciting. As far as I know we didn’t actually get in anyone’s way.

If you were there racing that day and have a different opinion, please feel free to correct me on that.

Due to lack of time we didn’t get too far after we extracted ourselves from the race fleet. I thought Cliff Island would be a good bet, given the strong southerly wind and our desire to get in a walk before sunset, so we pulled in there and dropped anchor on the west side of the bay on the island’s north side, away from the overly crowded mooring field on the east side.

Now is as good a time as any for me to offer a small amendment to my first very informative post on this destination: i.e., it can get a tad rolly in here when there’s a strong swell running in from the southeast, as there was throughout our weekend, thanks to the doings, I believe, of Hurricane Cristobal, which had just passed by many many miles offshore in that direction.

Cristobal in action the day before we headed out

Before we went ashore Lucy insisted on being hauled up the mast in the bosun’s chair, but didn’t want to go too far, due to the rolling motion of the boat. Which at least was one advantage to having anchored here.

On shore our walk was immediately interrupted by yet another climb, this one up a tree, which was not rolling.

We ended up hiking the entire length of the island’s eastern spur. We first walked down to the south point, which has a great view of neighboring Jewell Island. Then Lucy suddenly suffered an energy deficit and refused to walk anywhere but back to the dinghy, so Clare sat with her for a bit while I walked up to the north point on my own.

This was a fantastic trail, leading right along the edge of a low cliff facing east, and I was about halfway along it when suddenly a dog appeared. A highly energetic one, a German shorthair retriever, wearing a yellow lifejacket and a weird electronic device on its collar. It ran in circles around for me a moment, then shot off up the trail in the direction it had come from. I followed after it, thinking I would soon meet it and its owner at the end of the trail on the north point. But when I got there, where the trail dead-ended in a lovely grassy spot bordered by cliffs on all sides, there was no sign of the dog.

When I walked back to where Clare and Lucy were and reported I had met a strange dog from outer space that had disappeared into thin air and maybe they could help me find it again, Lucy suddenly became re-energized and was very willing to walk the trail. We didn’t find the dog, but I did snap a nice photo of Clare and Lucy standing on the north point facing west with the anchorage in the background. (See above, and please note the depth of field is skewed a bit. Those rocks to the right of the grass are actually at the foot of a 12-foot cliff.)

The next day, after another walk ashore, we sailed from Cliff Island up to the head of Quahog Bay, to the anchorage around Snow Island, where we planned to hook up with our friends David and Catherine, a pair of novice sailors who were out on their very first cruise together. They got there first and let us know by cellphone that they’d picked up a mooring with another empty mooring right behind it.

Our route from Cliff Island up to Snow Island. The wind was south-southwest, blowing between 20 and 5 knots, depending on our position and the apparent wind angle. We sailed the whole way and did the long DDW bit wing-and-wing without a pole

David and Catherine aboard their new (to them) Ericson

So we picked up that empty mooring, hopped in our dinghy, buzzed over to say a quick hey to David and Catherine, then dinghied all the way across the very large anchorage and up Orrs Cove to Great Island Boat Yard, where we hoped to visit the fabulous Wheelhouse Cafe so as to feed certain crew members who had been too seasick to eat lunch on the boat.

We were mortified to discover the cafe had gone out of business. But the boatyard, in spite of my warning that we weren’t on one of their moorings and that they were making exactly zero dollars off us, loaned us their enormous pickup truck so we could drive down the road to another spot. We were almost there when suddenly my cellphone rang. It was David, who had called to say the owner of the mooring we picked up had just appeared and wanted his mooring back.

Gack!

Long story short: we aborted the cafe run, returned the truck, dinghied all the way back to Lunacy, only to learn the rightful owners of the mooring were Will and Halcyon on Squombus, a Regina 38, who I had met 10 years earlier at the Newport boat show, right after they bought their boat and were representing Regina Yachts in North America.

Will on Squombus the following morning. Regina Yachts now is also out of business, but Squombus is for sale, in case you’re interested

This is about the best outcome you can hope for in a situation like this, and I had a very nice time catching up with the Squombites after I moved Lunacy to yet another empty mooring. We also had a fine meal aboard with David and Catherine that evening, but next morning woke to very dense fog.

We amused ourselves climbing the rig and what-not until finally it lifted and then we started out back to Portland.

Alas, we saw not a shred of wind the entire way, and some crew members got so sick of motoring they had to resort to playing cards on the liferaft to amuse themselves.

POSTSCRIPT: About that mysterious dog on Cliff Island–we did actually see it again, the following morning, on a trawler yacht in the anchorage. I reckon it must have jumped off that cliff and run back to its owner, who was waiting in a dinghy nearby.

Gizmo south: TFU, IBEX, NMEA, HSR & other self promotions

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-09-02 14:12

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

I didn’t write the seminar title, but I do understand the value of a grabby headline and I’m excited about being part of the entirely revised TrawlerFest in Baltimore. Paul Comyns and I will make a valiant attempt to cover all the important electronics bases for the knowledge-hungry, long-range-cruisers-to-be that tend to take the all-day “TF University” courses. An interesting added challenge for the presenters is to provide money-saving tips. I’m already working on concepts like how GPS, AIS, and improved signal processing have made it possible to “make do” with a smaller radar, but please suggest other reasonable cost-cutting strategies. And TFU is just the beginning of my fall speaking engagements, one or more of which you might want to attend or at least kibbutz about…

On Friday morning, 9/26, I’ll present a TrawlerFest two-hour seminar titled “The Wonderful World of Onboard Wireless” while Gizmo will be on display along with other power cruisers new and used during the Thursday-through-Sunday “show” portion of TF. Sailors, by the way, are explicitly welcome. Schedules, exhibitors, and seminar info is all here, and everything takes place at the BMC HarborView Marina, which seemed like a very pleasant spot when I used Baltimore’s excellent Waterfront Promenade to walk there from another marina in September 2012.

Personally, I’ll have to leave TrawlerFest a bit early for a flight to Tampa where I’ll join a group of other BWI writers to look carefully at all the entrants to the 2014 IBEX Innovation Awards. The judging job wraps up just as IBEX itself gets underway on Monday the 29th, and then I’ll get to be a show/seminar attendee as well as a participant in two seminars I helped to organize with ABYC’s Ed Sherman. The first (seen above) is “How Boats Are Adapting to Smartphones, Tablets, and the Internet” and the second “Interfacing, Alarming, and Logging Engine Data.” In both cases I think we have an expert and diverse panel and we’re working together now to create cohesive presentations. The IBEX audience will be quite different than TrawlerFest’s, but there is overlap in that some technologies important to boaters should be more important to manufacturers and boat yards (and vice-versa). So feel free with your thoughts. IBEX exhibitors with particular expertise in these seminar subjects are also encouraged to be in touch (ben@panbo.com) as I’ll be compiling lists of suggested booth visits for the attendees.

Remember, too, the 2014 IBEX Connected Boat demo pavilion discussed here in May. I notice that it’s now sponsored by Simrad but remain optimistic that its spirit will be all inclusive. It’s also good to see that NMEA is delivering a three-hour super session entitled “NMEA 2000: Saving Time, Money and Resources with a Connected Boat From the Factory.” Rumors persist that eventually the annual NMEA Conference will take place in conjunction with IBEX, and isn’t that idea potentially excellent for lots of us working in many aspects of the trade?

This year, though, I’ll return to Gizmo in Baltimore for a few days before flying to Fort Meyers for the NMEA 2014 Conference & Expo. Fortunately, given the packed schedule seen above, I’ll be at NMEA without any presentation or judging responsibilities. Of course, I’ll be on the hunt for new and interesting products, but I also welcome invitations to chat about this or that. (Or go out on a boat demo, which is pleasantly possible at both NMEA and IBEX this year ;-)

Going to NMEA may mean missing both the Annapolis Sailboat and Powerboat Shows, though it would be fun to watch the changeover again. But stops are uncertain as Gizmo and I motor down Chesapeake Bay to the Hampton Snowbird Rendezvous. I’ve never been to this relatively new event but hear it’s low key, fun and populated with lots of experienced cruisers. Thus, my relatively short “Smartphones and Tablets Aboard” seminar on Saturday, 10/18, may have an audience somewhere between TrawlerFest and IBEX in terms of experience.

So, please speak up about any app or app/hardware integration that you think your fellow boaters should know about. Or that you think developers should be working on. Easy, inexpensive ways to improve Internet connectivity will also come up in some of these seminars; what’s working well for you?

Finally, I’ve got one last bit of self promotion that you might enjoy right now. MyBoatWorks is a web project that’s begun documenting the refit of a 1996 Grand Banks 42. I like the visual site design a lot and if you register and poke around you’ll find a Skype interview I had with Simrad’s Dennis Hogan about all the different ways NSS evo2 gear could be used at both helms. For me the June conversation was somewhat theoretical, but now that I have evo2 at both of Gizmo’s helms, plus tablets, I can attest to the system’s flexibility.

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

Podcast: John & Amanda Neal

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-09-02 03:29

*Rerun from Two Inspired Guys*
John and Amanda Neal from Mahina Expedtions have been sailing heros of Andy’s for a while now, and it was a real honor to have them on the show. Ryan was away for this one, but Ben Eriksen, creator of the One Simple Question movie (www.simplequestionmovie.com) joined Andy as a special guest co-host. They talked to John and Amanda about their sailing history, about Amanda’s participation in the Whitbread Round the World Race as crew on ‘Maiden’, about John’s passion for kayaking, and about running a triathlon in Svalbard in 2016 in Arctic Norway! Check out Mahina Expeditions online at www.mahina.com to sign up for one of John and Amanda’s sailing adventures. Thanks guys!

Not All Ovens Are Created Equal

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-29 18:43
It’s that magical time of year again when birthday madness reigns supreme in our household. Indy, Erik, and Stylish all have their birthdays within a three week period, and so when the end of August rolls around, I feel like I do nothing but wrap presents and bake cakes. I took care of the present-acquisition in Canada back in May, and dutifully toted my partially-depackaged goods (the kids haven’t seen a board game arrive in its box since 2010) from Toronto through Vancouver, Seattle, Auckland, Noumea, and now Brisbane. Step one: complete. But baked goods are more of a just-in-time sort of product. So what to do about a cake? A year ago, I heroically baked a birthday cake for Indy en route to New Caledonia, while Papillon was heeled over 20 degrees. Sounds dramatic, I know, but I was in my own home with all of my ingredients and tools at the ready. Practically perfect conditions in the cruising game.

Tilty photo is not the result of shoddy camera work. Satisfied customers.

This year brought a new challenge: a hotel apartment kitchen. Mind you, I had already baked cakes for both Indy and Stylish when they had their farewell party in Noumea. But birthdays, as everyone knows, are very much a case of: what have you done for me lately? Cake on their actual birthdays was non-negotiable.

When we arrived in Brisbane, I checked out the kitchen. In terms of cooking equipment, the cupboard revealed:

  • one pot with lid
  • one colander

Not a frying pan, not a cookie sheet – not even oven mitts. If I had to guess, I’d say your average bear who rents a temporary apartment makes a pot of pasta on Night 2, spends the evening feeling smug about being so frugal, then goes back to eating restaurant meals for the duration of their stay. Point being, awesome as I am, I’m not up to the task of making a birthday cake under these conditions. So Indy and I visited the freezer section of our local grocery store.

I looked over the chocolate fudge cakes and key lime pies, wondering what everyone would like. Indy stabbed the glass with a finger.
“That one.”
I looked. “That one?” Indy was pointing at an ice cream cake that was clearly prepared by clowns taking some sort of illegal hallucinogen.
“Yes. Definitely.” Before I could open my mouth, she had opened the freezer door.
I shrugged.  At least it was an ice cream cake.

I’m not going to lie to you – Freddo freaks me out a little bit. And, surprisingly enough, the whole thing tasted like vanilla. Wishing up a storm.

But what about the rest of the time? We may be stranded here for weeks, and even the residents of Papillon can’t eat ice cream cake all day every day. Fear not. The existence of a single pot isn’t enough to stymie a wily cruiser – why, I’ve baked bread in a modified oil drum! A little ingenuity, a little aluminum foil, and what could be easier?

So you would think.

A couple of nights ago, the girls found pizza shells at the grocery store – the perfect dinner to cook in an understocked kitchen. Dinnertime rolled around, I made the pizzas, and popped the first one in the oven.

On Papillon, I have a propane-fuelled oven. I can only use the middle rack (or things burn), and one temperature setting (or the flame blows out). By trial and error, I have learned how to do all of my oven work with the dial set between 8 and 9 o’clock.  I have no idea what temperature that is supposed to be – the numbers rubbed off long ago.

As it happens, real world ovens have actual temperature dials. And fans. And upper and lower element settings, and all sorts of other fanciness that I have long forgotten. But what is fancy about pizza? Years ago, the owner of a chain of pizza shops told me that pizza is best cooked hot and fast. I cranked the temperature, set the timer and wandered off.

All was well for pizza one. Pizza two went in the oven. On went the timer. I went back to my email.

Time passed, and I had the feeling that the pizza ought to be done by now. I went in to check, and saw that the electric oven had turned itself off, timer and all.

‘I grabbed a tea towel, pulled out the just-starting-to-blacken pizza and frowned at the oven. What was this nonsense? Hmm, maybe the oven was a little on the too-hot side. Had I tripped a breaker?

Being a hotel, the breaker panel was nowhere to be found. Heaven forbid your guests mess with that sort of thing. But,magically, the oven turned itself back on an hour later.

It looks like I need to be more particular about choosing my cooking temperature. Those little numbers around the dial seem to actually mean something – who knew? And I will certainly use a separate device as a timer next time.

I guess living on land isn’t quite as simple as advertised.

EchoPilot Platinum FLS, better than expected

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 29, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

She: “HEY! Do you realize you’re steering right at a ledge?!?” He: “Yes, dear.” While it was a tough cruise for my lovely first mate, I did learn a lot about what an EchoPilot FLS Platinum Video Engine can actually do. If you click the photo above to full size, for instance, note how the FLS in the Garmin video window is showing especially shallow water about 55 feet ahead, though in a rather vague, pixilated manner. Note, too, that the more conventional and less expensive Raymarine CHIRP DownView/sonar is at least suggesting a shallowing trend. Still, as the title says, I am finding that the EchoPilot’s performance and usefulness is better than I expected, but then again — a big “but” — my expectations were quite low…

Forward looking sonar is hard! As discussed in my April entry about EchoPilot FLS (and the Simrad ForwardScan coming some day), my experience with a lesser model EchoPilot and a lot of research taught me not to expect much range or even a consistent ability to image substantial hard targets. The limitations may be even harder to grasp, now that we have quite detailed yet affordable side imaging coming from the likes of Humminbird, Simrad, Lowrance, Garmin, and (sort of, so far) Raymarine. But they’re using long, narrow beam transducer elements that fit better fore and aft and more important, they build their screen images one fine line at a time. FLS can’t work that way; adding the beam images — a 90 degree bottom to water surface sweep about 10 degrees wide — one to another would just create a big smudge.

On the other hand, side imaging at best can only suggest a danger that might be directly ahead. Only FLS can show you, as on the screen above, that a shallowing trend will continue and that there may be something of truly serious concern about 300 feet ahead. In fact, this screen nicely illustrates what a bacon-saving technology FLS can be. That could be a poorly charted reef somewhere — or a well-charted obstacle that a navigator had failed to account for. Actually, I was purposely headed at a ledge that’s always above water and guarded by a sound buoy, but then again, it has no doubt earned its name “The Graves” several times over.

I chose this screenshot for two reasons. While the charted area covers some of the incredibly beautiful granite and spruce islands off Stonington, Maine, note the ridiculous number of rocks awash sometime between high and low tide; it’s even more of a gunkholing delight if can see underwater ahead of your boat, even just vaguely. Note, too, how the EchoPilot FLS is targeting something right near the surface about 30 feet away. In this case it’s a particularly dense patch of lobster trap buoys and lines, but I’ve also seen the underwater parts of other vessels and aquaculture pens this way. However, that sort of performance is quite inconsistent, especially in shallower water. I’ve known since my earliest FLS research that it’s nearly impossible to get sonar pings back from a distance more than about 8 times the water depth — extreme 3D technology like Far Sounder’s excepted — but often the limitation seems worse than that. I’ve put Gizmo’s bow within 50 feet of ledges and even wall-sided granite breakwaters rising abruptly off a sea floor 10-15 feet deep and not seen them on the EchoPilot screen. Ping absorbing kelp could be the culprit.

Still, if you have an FLS screen, it’s hard not to look at it, especially when putzing around in tricky spots. And there was one pulse-quickening point on the recent gunkholing cruise when it let me know about a spot that’s significantly shallower than I realized (or is charted). It was a back-engine-and-ease-left, this-is-not-a-test, no-time-for-screenshots moment when I truly appreciated the technology. Even more than other aids to navigation, though, it shouldn’t be completely trusted.

However, I was surprised how well and consistently the EchoPilot Platinum can see fairly deep bottom. While that 247 foot depth reading is about the maximum I’ve seen — and note the interruptions in the yellow depth history line — the FLS is still showing an underwater hill nearly 600 feet ahead. I believe that this, too, could be a bacon-saving capability in certain very poorly charted areas of the world. Incidentally, this three-window screen is also showing the CHIRP sonar, including an automatic bottom zoom pane, that the Garmin 741 networked to the 8212 can process from the Airmar B75M transducer (latest Gizmo test setup entry here).

I was really surprised that the EchoPilot continued to perform even when I goosed Gizmo up to semi-displacement 16 knots, because its transducer is mounted on the keel pretty close to the bow, as detailed here. The StructureScan and DST800 transducers also installed forward kept working, too, but the seas were practically flat. When it’s rougher I won’t be surprised to see all three transducers fail at speed, but my theory is that a few feet of earlier warning at low speeds is worth the trade-off, especially given the short view of the FLS and side imaging. Note that an EchoPilot setup menu let me specify the transducer distance from the bow, which makes the screen vessel icon realistic. I should also add that EchoPilot prefers an transducer mount where there’s less deadrise, saying the boat bottom can provide some “ground plane” that helps with getting echo returns coming from near the water surface.

I was slow getting the EchoPilot fully installed, largely because there are two blackbox modules involved and the cable distance from the transducer to the Transmitter Box is only 2 meters. Getting power properly run to a spot near Gizmo’s forward bilge was a challenge that involved removing never-removed-before trim…

and a few more expletives were shed over EchoPilot’s old school wire colors. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a green 12v plus lead, not to mention a dark gray negative 12v wire that’s nearly indistinguishable from a black wire used for something else. And the power wires for the interface module are also unusual, but different. Incidentally, the Platinum FLS can both share depth and display other boat data, all via NMEA 0183, but this feature seems more pertinent to the model with its own screen.

This photo shows the keypad, which can be panel mounted but is working fine for me as a handheld. Because the Platinum video model can only output its screen display, the host MFD can’t control anything (except generic video settings like aspect ratio). However, I’ve found little need to use the keypad with auto range set and gain at max. Note how the EchoPilot is seeing the sailboat hull(s) and heavy mooring float chain about 40 feet beyond its transducer.

Of course, the keypad is necessary for accessing the EchoPilot’s fairly extensive set up and diagnostic screens. But note that though I’ve set the Depth Units to Feet, the Offset is still expressed in meters (which took me a while to figure out). Note, too, if you click the screen image full size that the EchoPilot portion, which also incudes quite a bit of gray border, is somewhat fuzzy because it’s being scaled up from a lower resolution. I tried all available video screen settings on the Garmin 741 and 8212, as well as on the Simrad NSS16 and Raymarine gS125, and this is about as good as it gets. You can definitely see what the EchoPilot FLS is generally up to on any of the screens mentioned, but you’ll probably want to push a small window to full screen for maximum interpretation.

Which is part of the challenge that EchoPilot faces when Simrad offers what seems like similar FLS technology but with full use of NSS evo2 screen resolution and controls, plus an install involving only a transducer and a software update at less than half the price. Will Simrad ForwardScan become popular if it can see ahead at least as well as EchoPilot? Will other big integrated MFD developers follow suit? In the meantime, I now understand why many EchoPilot users with reasonable expectations are pleased to have it and why it’s nice that such an option is available to most any boater with a video port on their existing display.

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Podcast: Cutting Loose Down Under

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-29 00:00

This is the Voice of Experience piece I wrote for SAIL magazine back in 2013 about my experience losing an anchor on my first-ever charter as a 20-year-old in New Zealand. Without further ado, enjoy this weeks (embarassing) Essay Friday. What’s some of your stupid mistakes onboard?

Catalina Takes a Beating

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:21

By Kimball Livingston Posted August 28, 2014

Hurricane Marie, in the Pacific off Mexico, has been downgraded from its 140-knot top wind speeds to the status of a tropical storm. But not without supplying some thrill rides to the boldest of Southern California surfers, not without flooding parts of Seal Beach, and not without beating up Catalina Island’s southerly-exposed harbor at Avalon and interrupting ferry service from the mainland.

The images here were circulated by the Catalina Island Yacht Club and have appeared in multiple news accounts. All or most of them can be credited to Erica Minuto. CIYC dates its Avalon shoreline location and pilings (but not the current clubhouse) to 1903.

The morning scene was grim at the boatyard at Pebbly Beach.

Avalon in the past has also taken damage from Santana winds blowing off the desert, placing the island downwind of the mainland with plenty of fetch to build up damaging seas. Wet winter storms are also dangerous, and they took a particular toll in 1995.

Farther west on the island, the piers at Whites Landing suffered serious damage from Marie, but Two Harbors went mostly unscathed. Los Angeles Yacht Club yesterday reported no problems at Howlands Landing, Catalina but issued a surge warning for its harbor at San Pedro, where waves were topping the breakwater at Angel’s Gate.

The entire region should be beyond the worst now as the storm weakens and slips farther away. This was the look at Whites, as distributed by the Balboa Yacht Club, which has its island facilities there. Looks like beach landings only for a while . . .

In Newport Beach, traffic out the Balboa Peninsula was reported heavier than on a July 4, and that was all about watching surfers take on The Wedge. This has been all over social media, but I still dig it— Taking the Ride

BRIDGE TO BRIDGE TODAY

The 18 Footers are racing this week on San Francisco Bay, out of St. Francis Yacht Club, and today at 5:30 is the annual hoot-and-a-holler Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race, from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge. Think foiler kites, windsurfers, 18s and perhaps a cameo appearance of that classic and still fast ocean racing woodie, Ragtime. The 2013 winner, kiting world champion Johnny Heineken, made the run last year in 12 minutes flat. This was The look of 2013.

MAINE COAST CRUISE: Mouth of the Sheepscot River

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-08-26 15:31

With children fortuitously exiled in sleep-away summer activities, my bride Clare and I had a chance last week to venture out on Lunacy for several days on our own. We originally thought we might visit the Damariscotta River, but heading out from Portland last Monday we were plagued by light air and had no reasonable hope of its increasing considerably in the days ahead. This is a problem that often confronts the cruising sailor: when the wind lapses do you simply switch on the motor and go where you wanted to go anyway, or do you sail more slowly and go someplace you hadn’t thought of?

We spent our first night on a mooring at Sebasco, on the eastern edge of Casco Bay, and by early afternoon the following day, as we were ghosting across the mouth of the Kennebec River flying the screecher and mainsail wind-and-wing (see photo up top), it became clear that the Damariscotta, two rivers further down the coast, would be out of reach without a strong dose of internal combustion. To my mind sailing more slowly is almost always preferable to the clamor and monotony of motoring, so I began pondering alternative destinations.

The mouth of the Kennebec River, as seen from inside Seguin Island. It is quite narrow, reaching just across from the fort on the left (Fort Popham) to the house on Gilbert Head at the south end of Long Island (once inhabited by my grandmother) on the right

Heading up the very next river, the Sheepscot, seemed an obvious ploy. Clare and I, in company with younger daughter Lucy, who was then just two months old, had gone all the way up the Sheepscot to Wiscasset in my old Golden Hind Sophie nine years earlier, but we hadn’t been back since. We had neither the time nor inclination to sail up to Wiscasset now, but I realized we could very easily visit Robinhood, just a short distance upriver off its west bank.

Having spent my boyhood messing around in boats at the mouth of the Kennebec, the Sheepscot, on its face, seems something like an alien planet. Where the Kennebec is tight and narrow, with tidal current sluicing through it at high speed, the Sheepscot is wide and comfortable, twice as deep as the Kennebec (with max soundings over 200 feet instead of 100 feet), and its current, though certainly noticeable, is neither dramatic nor prohibitive. There have been more than a few times when I couldn’t go somewhere due to over-powering current and so had to wait for the tide to turn in the Kennebec, but I don’t imagine you ever have such problems in the broader reaches of the Sheepscot.

In our case, we had the inbound current in our favor as we entered the river in any event, which turned out to be a good thing. For though the river itself may be user-friendly, the tributaries branching off it to the west toward Robinhood are less so.

Our route from Sebasco around to Robinhood. As you can see, the Sheepscot’s entrance is much wider than the Kennebec’s, just a few miles to the west. We were sailing wing-and-wing, with no preventers or poles, all the way from just west of Seguin Island, where we made a slight turn to port, well into the mouth of the Sheepsscot, where we again turned slightly to port to head due north up the river. The water was very flat, and our screecher is surprisingly stable in this configuration

Your humble author steering by hand during our wing-and-wing downwind run

There are two to choose from. What is known as the Little Sheepscot River comes up first as you approach from the south and is very narrow with water gushing through as if shot from a firehose. The alternative, Goose Rock Passage, a little to the north, is wider, but still has strong current running through it.

Our approach to Robinhood

Having the current behind us, we opted for the more exciting route and were quickly flushed out the “little river” into the broader reaches of Knubble Bay, which is first in a series of back-river tributaries that connect the Sheepscot to the Kennebec and emerge some 15 miles up the latter just across from the city of Bath. One of my earliest childhood boating memories is of riding this roller-coaster, most particularly the Sasanoa River, which features two thrilling choke-points called Upper and Lower Hell Gate, in a small wood sloop that belonged to my grandparents. I remember lounging on the bow, reading a book I think, and looking up to see a large whirlpool, literally a deep hole in the water, directly ahead. I recall screaming and sprinting in terror back to the safety of the cockpit.

In this instance we encountered no whirlpools, though we saw a few impressive rips, and landed safely just across the way at Riggs Cove, where Robinhood Marine Center is located. Beyond driving there once for lunch maybe 20 years ago, I have no memories of having visited Robinhood Marine before, so I was curious to see what it is like from a water-borne cruiser’s perspective. I do remember it always had a reputation for being an expensive yard, relative to other options in the area. And, of course, I am very aware of the two cruising sailboats they started building here some years ago–the Robinhood 36 and 40. These are actually the old Cape Dory 36 and 40 in disguise, built in the same molds, but to a much higher finish quality.

A Robinhood 36 under sail. These are expensive boats, especially when compared to the many old Cape Dorys on the market, and I don’t think too many have been built

We had a fine time here. The scenery is spectacular, and the facilities are first rate. There is a nice bar and restaurant, showers, a laundry, a wood-paneled library (with a good book exchange and a strong WiFi signal), plus some interesting historical exhibits. Of these I was most intrigued by the statue of the Abenaki chief Mahotiwormet, known to British colonists as Robin Hood, after whom (obviously) this tiny community, its boatyard, and its cruising boats are named.

The docks at Robinhood Marine

One of several Island 40 houseboats we saw moored there. These are available to rent as floating summer cottages through Riggs Cove Rentals

Chief Mahotiwormet, aka Rawandagon, aka Robin Hood. He is believed to have been buried at Woolwich, near Bath

When I was a boy I was told this fellow earned his nickname in a series of sharp 17th-century real-estate deals in which he cannily sold the same pieces of property to several different settlers. An example, if you will, of a Native American beating the white man at his own game. Googling him now, however, I find no reference to this legend. The sole seemingly authoritative source, an essay by Harald E.L. Prins in a book, Northeastern Indian Lives, 1632-1816, instead describes him as a tragic figure who presided over the inexorable demise of his people, wrought mostly by European diseases and alcohol, with as much dignity as he could muster, and who also tried his best to thwart the conflict, King Philip’s War, that ultimately destroyed them. I can’t guess now which interpretation of the man’s career is more accurate, but certainly they are not mutually exclusive.

I was also intrigued by an unusual vessel I spied in the mooring field. A rather extreme example of a sharpie, I guessed, but with a weird superstructure. We did a drive-by in the dinghy and snapped some pix. Then, on going ashore the next morning, we learned the boxy-looking houses on its deck are in fact for displaying produce and baked goods, as this turned out to be a grocery boat, Beth Alison, out of Bowdoinham, that has been plying these waters selling provisions in different harbors for the last 20 years.

Beth Alison on her mooring, looking mysterious

Beth Alison in action, selling Clare some tomatoes and blueberry pound cake

Having girded our larder, and again having the tide in our favor, we set out soon afterwards for Damariscove Island, just southeast of the river entrance. The wind, which was still light, was not in our favor, blowing straight up the river, but there’s nothing like a nice lee-bow tide to make beating out a wide river mouth seem like a gentleman’s game.

Our route to Damariscove. Thanks to the tide we only had to tack twice to lay it

Some of you now may be shaking your heads, remembering what happened last time I stopped at Damariscove, just two months ago. But this time the weather forecast made it painfully clear conditions would very settled for at least another 36 hours, so I was confident we would be comfortable.

Lunacy‘s stern anchor prepped for deployment. There really isn’t much room for swinging when anchored here

The cove at Damariscove, as seen from its northern end. Thanks to the wide-angle camera lens it seems much bigger here than it really is. You can see Lunacy anchored out to the left of the old Coast Guard station. I was interested to see that a Beneteau 42 succeeded in getting into the inner harbor and picked up a mooring there. Its skipper told me he had 12 feet of water (he entered at low tide) all the way in

View from across Damariscove’s inland pond, facing south

View from Lunacy‘s cockpit the next morning at sunrise. There was nary a ripple nor swell in sight

We had no worries about leaving the boat unattended so seized the opportunity to hike as much of the island as possible. I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager and have explored the south end of the island, but I’d never been up into the north end, which is now closed off during much of the spring and summer to accommodate nesting birds. It was now late enough in the season that the birds were done nesting, so I hoped this was my chance.

Alas, after much technical clambering over rocks across the island’s narrow central isthmus, which reeked of bird excrement, we realized there was no proper inland trail leading through the island’s northern lobe. To get all the way up to the end of the island we needed machetes, or had to climb rocks along the shore the entire way there and back. So we gave it up and retreated to the still-born ease of the cove.

Next morning, after breakfast aboard (starring some tasty blueberry pound cake) and another hike ashore, it was time to start heading west again, back toward Portland. But now, unfortunately, conditions were so settled there was exactly zero wind and we were forced at last to run the engine for many hours on end.

POSTSCRIPT: This cruise marked the debut onboard of my “new” 25-year-old autopilot. I wired it up while we laying at Sebasco and used it to steer the boat from that point forward. On reading the manual (which did not come with the unit, but was unearthed online), I was amazed to learn it is in fact quite sophisticated, with super-powers like auto-tacking I never guessed it had. It performed passably well during our cruise, but still seems to be learning the boat and does steer a bit sloppily at times. On testing it before running actual sea trials, I also re-tested the old identical unit, and it seemed to be working again. So maybe now I have two functional units and can carry one in reserve.

Cruising Solutions headsets, testing the Bluetooth update

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-08-26 14:30

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 26, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Apparently, the folks at Cruising Solutions have not forgotten that I once characterized their useful and still popular Mariner 500 intercom headsets as “making a boater look unfashionably similar to a Soviet tank driver,” and hence asked me to test their latest solution to the problem of verbal communications when captain and crew are in different areas of a boat. They are called “My Team Talks” Bluetooth headsets and they’re much more than modern looking intercoms. “Bring state-of-the-art multiplex communication technology to your boat” is not an overstatement…

The technology that Cruising Solutions has selected for boat use (and to presumably support for a long time) was developed by headset specialists Sena, whose main market is motorcyclists. So you can find deep details on the Sena SPH10 headset page as well as reviews at Amazon. The capabilities are phenomenal. You could conceivably have a phone and another audio source (maybe even a VHF) wirelessly connected to a headset and still be able to intercom with up to three other headsets. I tried a lot of the features and found the performance excellent. The “My Team Talks” headsets also seemed easier to set up and use than the huge feature list might suggest.

I used white tape to mark the headset I paired with both my Galaxy Nexus Android phone and iPad mini, and in this photo you can also see the little rubber tabs that fit between your earlobe and head to help keep the device in place. I found them fairly comfortable and could wear a pair for hours before needing a break. My dear mate, on the other hand, did not get used to them easily, but she does have an unusually small noggin (especially given its enormous and fantastic contents). No headphones are compatible with my hearing aids, but I found music, podcasts, intercom and most phone calls quite audible. All sources come through both speakers and music apps played in stereo; each source volume is individually controllable with the Jog Dial, which could also be used to skip forward and back through music tracks.

A really nice feature is the audible prompting. A pleasant voice confirms that the headset is turned on and then connected with the phone, plus it can inform of low battery status or lead you through complex settings when needed. Thus, it was easy to turn off the intercom voice activation that confused me when I first tried a single headset with phone and audio in my shop. Sounds like packing tape ripping off a roll would put the headset in intercom mode, and then the voice would warn me that the intercom wasn’t available. But it turned out that using the intercom manually is plenty easy, anyway; one tap on the dial starts full duplex communication with the other set(s) until you or another user tap the dial again (and Intercom VOX Off is the default mode, changed I guess by a prior tester). We didn’t test the intercom in extreme conditions, but the noise cancelling did seem to work well around normal wind and engine sounds.

I will note that the Sena manual is a bit daunting, but am happy to add that Cruising Solutions is currently working on both a video tutorial and a few quick start pages focused on the functions boaters will typically use.

I’ve tried a lot of wireless headsets, including several with intercom abilities, and I agree with Cruising Solutions that these hit a sweet spot of features, performance, ease of use and value. It may be partly that Bluetooth has gotten more reliable and capable over time, but I also think that Sena is very good at what they do. The size and layout of Gizmo doesn’t demand headsets for calm docking or anchoring, but I can imagine many circumstances — like trouble shooting something in the engine room — when they might be very useful, and I’ll also miss them as just a very solid standalone phone and audio headset. For ultra simple and inexpensive intercom-only use, though, the Mariner 500 is still a valid choice, and maybe the look has become hip?

PS: Digging around for the old Mariner headset review I found and enjoyed The Voyage of Ava T column that it accompanied. You might, too, but note that only the “Voyage of the Ava T page x” links at the bottom of that first page work. Here’s the opening paragraph and photo (at large resolution if you click on it):

Pictured above below is the helm of the good little vessel Ava T. as she approached the Cape Cod Canal shortly after dawn last Memorial Day. I was helping her new owner–PMY’s very own, and very boat-proud Richard Thiel–make his first trip aboard this 1985 Jarvis Newman lobster yacht, a 300-mile delivery from Camden, Maine, to Stratford, Connecticut. Now an older boat in such transition is a somewhat fragile affair. System idiosyncrasies that may have been second nature to her old master must now be relearned by the new one, and problems that festered while the boat awaited fresh enthusiasm tend to pop up without warning. In fact, Ava hadn’t been cruised, let alone driven hard, in more than two years, and the voyage–problem-wise–was epic. If you look hard you’ll notice duct tape around the window!

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