Here’s a trifecta of odd news that has lately teased my nautical mind. May as well lead with the Saildrone, an autonomous sailing robot that has recently completely a passage from San Francisco to Hawaii and is now sailing around in circles about 800 miles south of Oahu. To date it has covered some 6,000 miles at an average speed of 2.5 knots
Not exactly a record-breaking pace, but its creators are hoping these drones can become standard equipment in the world of oceanographic research and buoy maintenance. The trimaran drone is fully self-righting, measures 19 feet long by 7 feet wide, is constructed of carbon fiber, and can carry a payload of 220 pounds.
To me it looks like it could easily be mangled by a breaking wave, particularly that trim-tab on a stick that controls the wing, and I’m also wondering about collision avoidance. But really I think it’s kind of cool. I’m imagining a future in which ocean racing consists of fat rich guys controlling super-sized drones like these on iPads while lounging poolside with mimosas in their hands.
Next up is the Underwater Jet Pack from SCP Marine Innovations. This essentially consists of a pair of bow thrusters that divers and swimmers can strap to their forearms. The battery pack is worn on your torso. The founders of SCP are currently raising money on ShareIn, a crowd-sourcing site, and hope to have these on the market selling for $5,700 a pair within a year.
Pardon me for saying so, but this is a silly idea. This is the sort of kit you see for sale in the Hammacher Schlemmer Christmas catalogue for one season, then it disappears and is never heard of again.
Finally, the most important news: scientists have finally figured out why dogs circle around so much just before they settle in to pinch off a loaf. Turns out what they’re doing is sensing the planet’s magnetic field and are aligning themselves on a magnetic north-south axis.
No doubt people who cruise with dogs will be very pleased to learn that their compasses are now redundant.
ABSENCE ALERT: I’ll be AWOL for about 10 days hopefully starting tomorrow. Just got a gig helping deliver the new Alpha 42 catamaran, hull number one, from New York to St. John in the USVI. (First bit of the passage promises to be bitter cold!) I’ll fill you in on the details on my return.
Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 6, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
Johnson Outdoors really wants a piece of bluewater marine electronics. I learned a lot about the long, determined history of Johnson Family Enterprises when JO was trying to make GeoNav a major brand back in 2011. But while the GeoNav G12 MFDs I saw demoed had a lot of interesting features, even autorouting using either C-Map or Navionics charts, the competition from the existing Big Four brands is daunting. Plus, the economic timing was terrible and Johnson Outdoors pulled GeoNav’s plug, saying that they’d eventually try again under their successful freshwater Humminbird brand name. So, yes, the industrial design of the new Ion series looks like the old GeoNav G Series, but Ion really is “a new species of bluewater technology”…
Ion’s software has been completely rewritten since GeoNav and the hardware only looks the same. For instance, the Ion has a multitouch screen and the “Cross Touch” interface means that every single command can be done either on the screen or with the keys, dial and joystick. I was particularly impressed with all the touch gestures I saw on a short demo trip during the Fort Lauderdale boat show. For instance, an upward two-finger-swipe takes you to the home page while horizontal ones page through your favorite screens, and pinch-to-zoom works on both charts and sonar imagery.
The Ion 10-inch MFDs we saw in action weren’t finished but what did work looked good. Naturally, Humminbird has put an emphasis on fishfinding, and there are also three new sonar modules that run up to an SM3000 that can provide side and down imaging, plus regular and CHIRP fishfinding, plus boat speed and water temperature all over one Ethernet cable. And note that the demo did include NMEA 2000 engine data driving virtual screen gauges…
When I recently got N2K engine data on Gizmo, I learned that being able to customize gauge scales and warning points is important to their usefulness and thus, I liked what I saw when fooling with an Ion10 in the Humminbird booth. Personally, I’d appreciate even lower max RPM choices, but these ranges would certainly work on a lot of fishing boats. And look how easy and elegant they’ve made even the set-up portions of that screen. I saw lots of pleasing detail like that in the Ion interface.
The Ion hardware also looked well made. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a marine Ethernet switch with metal connectors, for instance, and they may even be the standard d-coded M12 type that’s being proposed for use with NMEA OneNet. Besides for the sonar modules, radar and other Ion MFDs, Ethernet can be used with 4 IP cameras as I understand the system design so far. Also seen in this photo is the course computer for the SC 100 autopilot that pairs with the new bluewater electronics.
Ion is obviously serious about networking, and the most unique port on its backside is an N connector for an external 11dB WiFi antenna that will be an available accessory. Humminbird hasn’t mentioned apps that can control or view the Ion screen, but it does have its own browser. The Standard Horizon CPN is the only other MFD I know of with a built-in browser — I’m currently testing and liking one, in fact — but you can’t use it and the CPN navigation functions at the same time. Humminbird sees users checking weather and email even underway, and it seemed like the product manager had lots more ideas of what could be done eventually with an MFD Internet connection.
The Fort Lauderdale press release also announced 8 and 10-inch Onix bluewater displays that share many features with the Ion MFDs and include built-in sonar but seem to lack the Ion’s full-on networking, IP cameras and browser. There is more detail about Onix than Ion on the Humminbird site right now, but note that the available operating manual PDF covers both. I’m also headed to Eufala, Alabama, in a couple of weeks to tour what it is purportedly the only MFD manufacturing plant in the USA and hopefully, to go fishing with some of this gear. I think the screen below shows Onix at work on a local lake, but it could be an Ion and the user could have been imaging saltwater fish with either, even CHIRPing down to 10,000 feet if using the SM3000. Note that Ion and Onix still support both C-Map and Navionics like GeoNav did, but now also support Humminbird’s own mapping and even AutoChart user-generated mapping.
It’s difficult to predict whether this Humminbird bluewater gear can make much headway — the competition is even stiffer these days — but Johnson Outdoors is certainly determined.
Dad and I are getting ready to start the journey north on Sojourner, Dad’s Wauquiez Hood 38. The boat’s currently in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. He sailed it to Tortola with his cousins and some friends in this year’s Carib1500. Then Mia and I joined him for the two-week cruise south through the Leeward & Windward Islands, to make it to Rodney Bay in time for us to work for the ARC. Anyway, now it’s time to come home, and you can join us!
We’re looking for 1-2 people to sail with us on the first leg of the return trip. Contact us for details, as this will be a working passage, and a shared-expenses trip – you’ll be expected to stand watch, cook and clean, and take care of the boat. No experienced required – Andy loves to teach, and this could be a great experience to get some ocean miles in.
Here are the details:
- We are flying to St. Lucia on February 11. The boat will depart Marigot Bay as early as the 13th, so you’d need to be there by the evening of the 12th. Departure is weather dependent.
- We provide safety equipment (lifejacket, harness, etc). The boat is outfitted to WCC standards, based on the ISAF Special Regulations.
- You’ll need personal clothing and foulies. One bag only!
- Leg 1 will be Marigot Bay to St. Croix in the USVI, about 300 nautical miles. It’ll take us 2-3 days, nonstop. The former Dutch harbor at Christiansted is, according to Caribbean guru Don Street, “one of the most picturesque in all of the Caribbean.” Neither of us have been there, so it’ll be a chance to explore for all!
- Leg 2 will be St. Croix to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, Bahamas via the Old Bahama Channel and the out-islands of the Bahamas. This leg is as-yet unplanned, as we hope to stop and explore some of the remote Cays of the Out Islands on the way north, or at the least sail by some of them. This will be a decision made on the fly and based on the weather. This leg is considerably longer, at about 1,200 miles, and will take us 8-10 days, slightly longer if we stop en route.
- The boat will remain at GTC until late March, when we make the final hop north around Hatteras and back to Annapolis. More on that trip later, which will also be open for crew.
Contact Andy if you’re interested at 484-269-3358, or firstname.lastname@example.org. See you in St. Lucia!
A Speck in the Sea was one of the most emailed stories from the New York Times over the weekend. Read it, then put on your harnesses and clip into your tethers!
If a picture tells a thousand words, then a map is a portrait with countless stories to tell. Consider Cape Disappointment in Oregon, whose name on a map barely hints of the great and perilous journey of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. When it came to naming the place, a deflated Clark must have considered names such as Cape Lewisisanassforthiscrueljourney, but settled for the understated Disappointment knowing how difficult the alternative would be for school children to spell.
A few years before sailing away on Totem, we installed a giant map of the world, measuring 7’ x 14’, on a wall in our home. We marked out tracks of noted cruisers, and places that we dreamed of sailing to. In addition to numerous paper and digital charts on board we have three bulkhead mounted maps. A world map from 1839 is a reminder of the subjective, changing nature of human understanding. From this map’s symbols representing the “state of societies”, we’ve traveled exclusively among barbarians since 2008. An updated version would almost certainly show Australia as half-civilized. Lest we forget where we’ve been, another world map traces Totem’s route in purple marker meandering from Seattle to present location, Thailand’s Similan Island. Lastly, we like to display a regional map of the area we’re in to learn local geography. It also sparks curiosity for the tales behind the many Cape Disappointments of the world.
Thinking back to our giant map marked with places to anchor someday, we realize now that you can’t see them all – at least on the first lap. Galapagos, Palau, and Philippines are behind us, unvisited, or maybe ahead and waiting. There is magic, though, both in reaching long dreamed of locations on a map and in finding the ordinary, undiscovered places along the way.
Sailing out from the Straits of Juan de Fuca past the cape Captain Cook named Flattery offers up a huge dose of Pacific Ocean freedom. It also begs a question of the always methodical Captain Cook. Why did he pass by without investigating the vast opening in an otherwise unforgiving coastline? Perhaps Vancouver, then crewmember aboard Resolution, begged Cook to leave a few crumbs of land for ‘others’ to explore. Further South by Drake’s Bay one wonders whether it really was the bold privateer Francis Drake’s northernmost reach, or if secrets of his venturing much further north are lost to time. Further south still, the Channel Islands off of central California were discovered sequentially by Native Americans about 13,000 years ago, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, and by the crew of Totem in 2008. They offer an amazing blend of raw beauty, rich wildlife above and below the water, and a chance to learn the art of dinghy surf landings. Cabrillo died at San Miguel Island as a result of getting overturned on the way to the shore. I was rolled by the surf in our kayak, at Santa Cruz Island, but came out unscathed sans sun glasses.
Of the spots marked as must see on our giant wall map of dreams, French Polynesia and Fiji had the most stars by them. We didn’t appreciate that French Polynesia consists of five island groups over nearly a million square miles of ocean. Having sailed some of those square miles and seen lush, jagged mountains in Marquesas, gin clear water in Tuamotus, and a kaleidoscope of colors in the Societies we dream of going back. Of many memories there, one from Baie de Controleur (Controller Bay), Nuku Hiva, the same place where Herman Melville fled tough life on a whaling ship only to be caught by cannibals and lived to write about it in his book Typee, is particularly fantastic. One dark night we watched the trails of giant mantas glide and a hammerhead shark cruise through water lit by bioluminescence that gave the entire bay a green Jell-O like glow.
Fiji, it turns out, has more coral reefs than most beaches have grains of sand. They are literally everywhere with names like Charybdis Reef. Many are nameless and uncharted. Cruising there requires good eyes and slow going, but the reward is glorious snorkeling with endless underwater habitats to explore. Fiji also offers a nice balance of remote, unspoiled islands and popular tourist spots where many cruisers frequent when in need of socialization. Food is good and inexpensive, boating supplies and services are available, and local culture is welcoming (Mbula!), making Fiji, in the best of ways, similar to Mexico.
As a cruising destination, Mexico is has areas rich with culture and others as remote feeling as the moon. When merging a route up the east side of Baja with John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, one almost feels part of sunset chats onboard Western Flyer with Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Rickets: drinking beer and philosophizing or discussing specimens collected that day. On Baja’s west coast is Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay). Its moonscape like rocky edge and grey pelicans diving into turquoise water at great velocity, made anchoring there feel for the first time like we had left the beaten path of guidebooks and information behind. Our voyage of exploration began in Turtle Bay.
The giant map is far away, having fed our dreams of sailing to exotic places. Coming from an enlightened society, according to our 1839 map, we are happy to report that the barbarians haven’t been barbaric at all. Maybe we should assign our children a school project to update the 1839 map, designating areas by their “state of cooking”. It seems logical since we’ve shared meals with people of all manner of ethnicity, language, religions and belief systems. Symbols could range from coconuts for simple fare to a chef’s toque for haute cuisine. Our children’s differing personal taste would taint objective intent, thus rendering it as silly as the original: believable only if you believe in it.
Charts aid us now, imperfect and utilitarian as they are. If companies that produce charts had suggestion boxes, we’d have filled them by now with scraps of paper with notes such as, “Suggest review of chart at location 08° 40.09 north and 97° 38.50 east. Islet shown on chart does not exist, good snorkeling there though.” Or, “Please review point of land shown at 00° 32.72 south and 130° 27.30 east. Instead of the point of land, there is a tiny unnamed bay; we suggest calling it Safeinasquall Bay or maybe just Teacup Bay.”
If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, the Totem fund gods are smiling at you- thank you!
Jamie and I co-author the cruising column for 48° North, a Pacific Northwest regional boating magazine. This piece for their for January issue caught us in a reflective mood. The complete magazine is available free online from their website.
If you have an electric windlass, eventually you will step on the foot switch, or flip the switch in the cockpit, and nothing will happen. Of course this can be caused by many problems, but the most common are corroded contacts on a solenoid. In a blog post a while back I discussed solenoids in general terms. If you don’t know what a solenoid is, or what it does, it would do you well to read this brief primer.
Here we’ll discuss windlass solenoids, or what they call a windlass control box, which is really just two solenoids in the same box and sharing some of the same circuitry. If your windlass just powers in one direction (up!) then your windlass control solenoid will be a simple one like this:
…But if your windlass has both power up and power down, it’ll look something like this:
Hey, wait a minute, those last two look exactly alike. Yes, many windlass control boxes are made in Italy by the same manufacturer, and other companies brand them as their own. We must stop this evil Italian monopoly on windlass control solenoids!…or just address one problem at a time, like a windlass that won’t work.
Most windlasses are switched through a solenoid, like those ones pictured above, but some are switched directly through a high-amperage foot switch, with no solenoid between the foot switch and the windlass. In both cases, the problem and solution are the same: The solenoid in the control box, or your foot, presses a large copper bar against two contacts. Since this is a high amperage connection, this copper bar can spark, arc, and take a lot of abuse. Over time, the points of contact will become fouled, “carboned up,” as they say, and will no longer make good electrical contact.
There will usually be some warning: You’ll go to raise your anchor and the windlass won’t work. You’ll try a few times and it will work, then you’ll forget it didn’t work the first time, but the first time should serve as a warning that troubles are on the way.
The telltale sign is the solenoid clicking, or stomping on that foot switch, but the windlass still not working.
The solution is simple – clean the electrical contacts – but of course it’s seldom that simple. If yours is a solid state solenoid, as in many up-only installations, you simply can’t get at the contacts and the solenoid must be replaced (about $50). If you’ve got one of the Italian jobs, or one of their American (meaning Chinese) equivalents, you can get to the contacts and clean them.
During my ten-year circumnavigation this was an annual task, heralded by the aforementioned warnings.
Usually you’ll have to completely remove the control box and disconnect all wires. Note where everything goes: digital cameras and smart phones are great for this. Once you’ve got everything disconnected you can confirm your diagnosis by touching the power cable directly to the power lead(s) on the windlass. If it jumps to life, you’ll know your solenoid/control box is indeed the problem. If it doesn’t jump to life, your problem lies somewhere else.
Remove the screws that hold the lid on the the control box:
Inside, you will see something like this:
On both sides, down in the box, are the solenoids. Above are the contacts, the filthy, fouled contacts, which must be cleaned. But to clean the contacts you must loosen and remove the studs from the top of the control box:
Once everything is out and exposed, go to it with a wire brush. Don’t be shy: The fouling on the contacts can be tenacious, and require vigorous action with a wire brush or sandpaper. The copper contacts will probably be zinc plated, but the zinc may have to go bye-bye to make clean electrical connections again. This isn’t rocket science: It’s brute physical/electrical stuff, where copper bars have to come into contact with copper studs like a punch in the face:
Once the contacts are clean, reassemble the control box, reconnect the wires, and you should be up and running again. Yes, there are many other things that can go wrong electrically with a windlass, but in my experience it was this about ten times in a row, followed by something more serious (I’ll get to this later).
Most importantly, a new windlass control box will cost $150-$180 retail. Forty-five minutes in the most uncomfortable position imaginable in your anchor locker to deal with a faulty windlass control box…priceless.
Join Andy and friends at Port Annapolis Marina in February for a weekend of sailing history and celestial navigation. While there is hardly an argument anymore for celestial as a backup to electronic navigation, it’s part of sailing history, and as ocean sailors, we owe it to ourselves to at least have a general understanding of it, I say! Plus, it makes those long night watches that much more enjoyable when you know your place – physically and philosophically – in the universe.
Cost is $350, and the Workshop is limited to the first 12 people.
What it includes:
- Copy of Hewitt Schlereth’s Celestial in a Nutshell
- Universal Plotting Sheet booklet
- Notebook & pencil
- Weems & Plath Star Finder
- Use of a sextant for practice during the weekend, with the option to buy one at the end of the Workshop (courtesy of Bacon Sails in Annapolis)
- First round of beers at Galway Bay Pub Friday Night! (see below).
Sign up with a friend, and you’ll each get a 5% discount! Click here to read some of Andy’s articles on celestial that he’s written over the years.
Dates for the weekend workshop:
- Friday, Feb. 7, 1900: Join Andy on Maryland Ave. at Galway Bay Pub for drinks (1st beer on me!) and a pre-workshop chat.
- Saturday, Feb. 8, 0900-1700: Workshop begins at Port Annapolis Marina in the ‘Lounge.’ Coffee and tea provided by the Portside Cafe during the morning session, with a break from 1200-1300 for lunch.
- Saturday, Feb. 8, 1900: Meetup downtown at Ram’s Head Tavern for an optional group dinner. (RSVP required).
- Sunday, Feb. 9, 0900-1500: Workshop Day 2. Coffee & tea in the morning, with a 1200-1300 lunch break. Stay later for Q&A and storytelling if you so choose!
To register, contact Andy directly at 484-269-3358 or email@example.com. Registration is limited to the first 12 people to pay in full. See you there!
Today I woke up at 5:45, too excited to sleep. I came downstairs, made coffee, and began writing this. It snowed 6 inches overnight, and outside, despite being five blocks from the center of town, there is a calm and almost deafening quiet that is only possible with a blanket of fresh snow in the dark of the early morning. Christmas has passed, but that little kid inside of me still has the same feeling. I’ve got a new toy.
Before I get the ‘how’ of this story, I’ll start with the ‘why.’ For nearly six years ago now, I’ve more or less lived aboard a boat. First, on my dad’s Sojourner, then on my own Arcturus, after meeting Mia and deciding we’d buy our own boat. Over those six years we’ve sailed many thousands of miles in both of those boats and others. Though we’d spent a fair amount of time living in my parent’s basement, and occupying Mia’s childhood bedroom when we were in Sweden, it was always a boat we’d come ‘home’ to after our travels.
And then in the spring of 2012 my mom died. I feel like I keep harping on this fact, but in the time since, the result of that single day in April (and, more realistically, the cumulative effect that two-and-half years of her living – and ultimately dying – with brain cancer has had on us and my family) has affected just about every single aspect of my life, consciously or subconsciously. It was also around this time that we started working for World Cruising Club, and would need a more permanent base in the USA to run the office. Mia and I opted then to move back into my dad’s basement, where we’d keep the office and our collection of ‘stuff’, partially as a way to save money, but mostly because after my mom’s death, he needed some support (and, admittedly, so did I). We still did plenty of sailing, but ‘home’ was now in Pennsylvania.
(A short aside on the nature of sailing, and cruising specifically. I made the choice, long ago, before I met Mia in fact, that I’d pursue a career in something I was passionate about. In fact, it never really was a choice. From a very young age, my mom (and dad, to give him some credit) instilled in both my sister Kaitie and I, that if you ‘follow your heart, the money will come.’ I don’t believe in destiny, and only a little bit in luck – you make your own luck, I say – but the path that my life has followed since high school and my decision to pursue a career in golf – golf! – seems in hindsight as if it was out of my control. Obviously, the golf career was short-lived. Stuff just happened, and here I am.
Anyway, by making the choice to pursue a ‘lifestyle’ career – a job in which I’m excited to get up to in the morning to get to work, that feels as far from a ‘job’ as is possible – I’ve inadvertently made the choice that I will never be a full-time cruiser. Sailing for Mia and I comes in spurts – summers now in Sweden on Arcturus, a few deliveries throughout the year, and now, more often, some ocean racing thrown in for good measure. By deciding to take the work with World Cruising Club, we closed the door to working full-time on yachts that I thought was open right in front of me. And now, I don’t believe I would have been happy doing that.
I have too many interests. I wrote long ago that while I grew up around boats and the sea, my family never identified as ‘sailors.’ I still don’t see myself as a ‘sailor.’ I like sailing, am pretty good at it, but it’s not what makes me me. I’m like to cycle, but I’m not a cyclist. I love to run, but I don’t think of myself as a runner. If anything, I wish I could call myself a skier – climbing mountains and skiing down them, in the moment, is far and away my favorite thing in the world, and yet I do it the least. In another life maybe.
But the point is, I’d never be content as a full-time cruiser. I get bored after a while and yearn for something different. Then, after a while of that, I want to get back on the water. So it goes.
The life we’ve now chosen for ourselves – a base ashore, far from the sea and surrounded by farmland, where I can store my myriad bicycles and ride around the countryside. And, importantly, where it’s cheap enough to enable us to afford both a small house and a small boat – gives us the best of both worlds. When I’m tired of one, I can escape to the other.)
Anyway. This – the situation of us living with my dad – obviously couldn’t last. I’m nearly 30, and looong past the time I should have moved out. Granted, we were still traveling and sailing a lot, but by the end of this past summer, when we returned home from sailing Arcturus in Sweden, it quickly became apparent that life at 1169 Hilltop Road was no longer sustainable (though to no fault of my dad, as he was unflinchingly supportive of us, even as we took over his own house). It was just time.
It was on our annual father-son cruise this past summer that the light bulb finally went off. In the foggy haze of a nasty hangover after a big night at Fell’s Point with the boys, I started Googling properties, first in Portland, Maine (Mia and I yearn for a real, Swedish-style winter), then in Annapolis and finally in Lancaster, PA. It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, with the historically low interest rates, and the (very) small inheritance from my mom, we could swing actually buying a place of our own. For once, Mia agreed with me. At that point, the whole thing became inevitable.
Life with Mia is a whirlwind. We seem constantly to be coming or going, and one project usually flows immediately into the next with no time to breath in between. Buying a house turned out to be no different. Following ten days in Portsmouth, VA at the start of the Caribbean 1500, Mia and I made an appointment with a realtor in Lancaster. We’d stop in on our way back to my dad’s place in Reading, after spending the night in Oxford at Ben Weems’ house (the former owner of Arcturus, then Cybele). We had three days back in PA before flying out again to Tortola in early November, and would remain in the Caribbean until December 29. One thing into the next, as per usual.
We chose Lancaster for it’s compact city center, affordable cost of real city living and fantastic access to local, organic food and raw milk, thanks to the Amish. The first house we looked at was a neat old row home a few blocks from downtown. Neat from the outside. The experience just about scuttled the whole process before it got started. The place was neat, but it was old. And a mess. Old, tangled wiring hung from the basement ceiling, the floors and walls were cracked and broken, the living room was painted an ugly yellow. After refitting two boats now (Arcturus and Sojourner), I was not interested in remodeling a house. If this is what we can afford, Mia and I thought, let’s move back in with dad.
Next stop was a gorgeous condo in an old brick warehouse. High ceilings and exposed brick and wooden beams, with a view out the front window to the Lancaster Brewing Company. It was sweet, and loaded with character, our #1 priority in looking for a place to live (just as it was when we were boat shopping). And it was newly renovated, so no work to be done. Things were looking up, we thought.
The realtor took us to a few more houses, each newly renovated and very affordable, but nothing that really got our blood flowing.
“Haven’t you looked at 12 Plum Street?” she asked as the day was winding down. Nope. “Ah! It’s because they just brought the price down yesterday, and it previously would have been over your limit.” Take us there then!
So for our last stop of the day, as the sun was setting in the west (a sunset that my dad was enjoying far offshore, five days into his voyage south on Sojourner in the 1500), we discovered 12 Plum Street. We set foot inside to a newly renovated kitchen and living room, but one that retained all the charm and character of the house as it was built in 1867. Exposed, random width original wood flooring. The original brick fireplace in the kitchen. Original wooden doors with iron knobs and handles (none of which actually close tight). The exposed stone foundation in the unfinished basement. All this with newly painted walls, brand new windows and a new, stainless steel kitchen. The instruction booklet was still in the oven.
We walked out that day with the same feeling we had when we first looked at Arcturus – the debate was over before it started. That was going to be our house. The next day, after a fitful night’s sleep in dad’s basement, we drove back to Lancaster and put a full-price offer on the place that was quickly accepted. And then we flew to Tortola.
There is a long story in the interim between placing an offer on the house and our actually moving into it, but I’ll save that. Suffice it to say that as new home-buyers, we needed a cosigner (thanks Dad!), but because we were doing this entirely remotely (from the Caribbean no less), getting all the documentation together for the mortgage was a nightmare. But it happened, and literally hours after we returned from St. Lucia (arriving back to dad’s house at 2 in the morning on December 30), we returned to Lancaster one last time for settlement. Eli, the Amish dude we bought the house from (and who showed up for settlement complete with his chinstrap beard, straw hat and suspenders), handed us the keys, and the place was ours.
On New Year’s Eve, Mia and I moved in. And being that it was New Year’s Eve, it was literally just Mia and I doing the moving, as all of our family and friends were doing what you’re supposed to be doing on that day. We rented a 17’ U-Haul and proceeded to pillage my dad’s basement of it’s furniture, gathered up all of our books and bicycles and skis, and drove the 40 miles or so to our new home. It was 9pm until we’d unloaded the truck, the two of us, and with a scattering of unpacked boxes and furniture in the living room, Mia and I rung in the New Year, more satisfied than ever.
So far, as sailors accustomed to living aboard, the transition to life ashore has been made easier not by the things we now have, but what we still lack. The fridge hasn’t arrived yet, so we’re working out of a cooler that is outside on the back stoop. No need for ice, as it’s been below freezing since we moved here. The leftovers stay right in the pan, and are currently kept cold under the 6 inches of new snow outside. We spent the first two nights sleeping on a mattress on the floor – the old stairway was too narrow for the box spring. We joked that it just made it feel like the ceiling was extra-high.
But then I’m still taken aback by the very small conveniences that I think most people take for granted. Filling the Brita filter this morning I smiled at not having to pump the foot pump to get water from the tap. And doing the dishes in warm water required nothing more than a small move of the spigot to the ‘hot’ side, rather than putting the kettle on the stove as we do sometimes on Arcturus. Showers? We’ve got two of them!
And then the storage! The house is only just over 1,000 square feet, small by most standards, but impossibly huge by ours. Precisely because of all the traveling and sailing we’ve done (and will still do – this place is only a ‘base’ for six months of the year), Mia and I have made a point not to collect ‘stuff.’ All of the furniture we moved here was donated by friends or bought at Goodwill, and my entire wardrobe, winter and summer clothing included, fits in a small closet and one four-drawer dresser. The sports equipment we have takes up by far the most space, and occupies the third bedroom of the house downstairs. Between the two of us we have 7 bicycles (though two of them are in Sweden), 4 pair of skis, 1 wakeboard, 1 tennis racket, 1 set of golf clubs, 2 kettlebells, many pairs of running shoes and an assortment of fitness stuff. And yet there is no way – no way – we will ever fill this place. In fact, the challenge now is going to be to keep that mindset of not hoarding stuff just because we suddenly have the room for it.
So now, Lancaster City, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country, is our new home base. We’ll still travel, still sail. This place, our new home, is the furthest point, philosophically anyway, from sailing and the ocean. And that’s just how we want it.
Dolphins on my mind. First, this great plague that has visited them. In the past year, over 1,000 dolphins on the U.S. East Coast have been documented as having died of a measles-like morbillivirus (see photo up top). The last time such an epidemic swept the coast, in the late 1980s, it is believed the virus wiped out about half the population of coastal migratory dolphins, and this time it only promises to be worse. Already documented deaths have exceeded the toll in the 1980s, and the epidemic shows no signs of abating.
We stopped at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) on Grassy Key during our ongoing post-Xmas Florida vacation, and the folks there are clearly concerned. I had signed up our girls for a so-called “Dolphin Encounter,” and the very first question they asked during the pre-swim orientation was whether anybody had recently been handling dead dolphins on beaches.
No one had, of course. And not surprisingly only a few people in the group were aware of the morbillivirus outbreak.
The girls had a fantastic time in the water with a 3-year-old dolphin named Flagler, who was born at the DRC and has spent all his life in captivity. This is true of all the 22 dolphins at the facility, save two, who were originally wild but were taken in as rescues. The animals live in a series of large interconnected pens that are segregated from the Gulf of Mexico by nothing more than low wire fences. It looks as though it would be very easy for the dolphins to jump these if they wanted, and the party line is they don’t because the DRC is their home and they have no desire to leave.
I didn’t get in the water myself, but as a parent I didn’t really have to. My vicarious gland was hard at work, and just watching the girls lead Flagler through his regular routines–a mock kiss and splash fight, a swim around the pen hanging on his dorsal fin, etc.–nearly brought a tear to my eye. Indeed, I was so invested in the girls doing this (it was my idea in the first place), I had what can only be described as a counter-intuitive response when a strange incident at the beginning of the encounter threatened to prematurely end it.
The girls were in a group of five, and right after they got in the water and were introduced to Flagler, the first woman in line told the attending trainer that the dolphin had bitten her leg. Not a hard bite, obviously, and the woman herself didn’t seem at all concerned, but the trainer immediately asked all of the group to get out of the water. There followed a consultation by handheld radio, and during this I wasn’t thinking–as I probably should have been–that my kids might be in danger. Instead I was worried the encounter might be aborted.
In the end, they went ahead anyway, with Flagler instead of a substitute, and everything was fine.
That very evening I happened to watch the documentary film Blackfish on Netflix, a must-see for anyone at all interested in cetaceans. It mostly tells the story of Tilikum, a wild killer whale who was captured off Iceland when he was young and has since been kept at first Sealand of the Pacific and later SeaWorld as a breeding stud and performer. During the course of his decades-long career, Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three different people, most recently a trainer, Dawn Brancheau, whom he killed after a performance in February 2010. Footage of the incident doesn’t appear in the film, but at least one clip is available on YouTube:
The film makes a very powerful case that it is essentially immoral to hold any sentient marine mammal in captivity. The scenes in which female orcas are shown suffering intense grief after being separated from their calves are particularly heart-rending. Another incident covered in the film, also documented in this publicly released video, where a female orca effectively tortures and almost drowns a SeaWorld trainer, is also quite chilling:
I suppose it would be easy enough to draw distinctions between a wild orca like Tilikum and a “tame” bottlenose dolphin like Flagler, but let’s face it, slavery is slavery whether you are captured or born to it. And as a parent, in any event, my first concern after watching Blackfish wasn’t the morality of having paid to have my daughters play with a slave, but whether they might have been injured while doing so.
It may seem much easier to draw distinctions about this, in that dolphins seem inherently less dangerous than orcas, but on googling around I soon found there have in fact been a number of “accidents” during swim-with-dolphin encounters at “dolphinariums” like the DRC. Apparently none have resulted in fatalities, but there have been serious injuries involving lacerations and broken bones, and there has been at least one reported incident at the DRC itself. In one survey, over 50 percent of professionals working with captive marine mammals reported having been injured at some point by their charges.
Some of these putative acts of aggression may seem ambiguous. Witness the behavior in this video, in which a dolphin is seen repeatedly “play-biting” a swimmer’s arm:
But in other instances, there’s no doubt about what is happening:
Watching these, of course, I can’t help but think of that seemingly innocent incident that took place at the beginning of my daughters’ dolphin encounter, and all I can say now is that I feel deeply conflicted. Should I have pulled my girls right out of there? Was it a bad idea to put them in the water with that dolphin in the first place?
I really have no idea whether the dolphins at the DRC are happy or not. It may seem like they can leave whenever they want, but for all I know there may be other factors in play that prevent this. After watching Blackfish, I certainly don’t feel I can take at face value assertions made by people who run places like SeaWorld about the care and welfare of their animals.
Thanks mostly to those perpetual grins on their faces, it is easy to believe that dolphins are happy-go-lucky animals that love us just as much as we love them. It is what we want to believe. They are undeniably charismatic and obviously intelligent and thus are highly attractive to us. But we cannot assume that the positive emotions we feel for them are reciprocated, particularly in situations where we are effectively holding them in bondage.
Dolphins greet the crew of Brindabella during the recent Sydney-Hobart race. Photo by Carlo Borlenghi
If you really care about dolphins, it may be the best way to demonstrate this is to simply admire them from a distance. Give them a big wave and cheer when they come to cavort at the bow of your boat. And by all means we should do what we can to help them cope with this awful disease that now afflicts them. But beyond that, if we want to physically interact with them, to actually lay hands on them, perhaps we should just wait for them to come to us.
John Harries of Attainable Adventure Cruising chatted with Andy to announce news of the ‘Adventure 40′ ocean sailing yacht. John has many, many thousands of miles crossing oceans (most recently in his 56′ McCurdy & Rhodes aluminum cutter), mostly in the far North Atlantic and high latitudes of the Arctic. That experience led him to believe that the ideal ocean going production sailing yacht doesn’t exist – yet. Now, thanks to John’s ideas and to the design and engineering of Erik de Jong, it does. John and Andy discussed how the idea came about, John’s specifications for the ideal ocean cruising boat, and how the whole thing came together. It was a fascinating 50 minutes, and really refreshing to hear from someone I admire sharing the same ideas when it comes to ocean sailing. Thanks for the chat John, and come back to the show soon!
Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 2, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
It’s good to start the year with a project, and I’ve got one to share. I’m convinced that a new boating service called BoatLogger has a terrific concept for collecting log data, cruise photos, equipment manuals, and much more to a personal boat website they’ve made very easy to set up. But what the developers need right now is a hardy band of beta testers to create their own sites, try every feature possible, and report problems. That’s how I spent much of 1/1/2014 as you can see at www.boatlogger/gizmo. I’ll explain what I’ve learned after the break, and also detail an incentive available to the first 50 beta testers…
The screen above shows what Gizmo’s home page looks like in edit mode. This is perhaps the most polished aspect of BoatLogger so far. It’s beyond slick how you can drag and modify various DataPanes to create a custom page on your site. Note, too, how you can edit and reorder the tabs associated with the pages. And for me, a major feature is those green “eye” buttons, which let you make individual panes or whole tabs private (only for you, or you and your friends) or public. That’s key, I think, to a site that can serve you and your boat in many different ways, and it works very well (as I’ll demonstrate further below). Finally, the DataPane list shows how much of BoatLogger is free, which I’ve also noted with my tab names.
Here’s the Log Book data pane for another BoatLogger beta vessel named S/Y Mare showing how logs are presented as multiple track segments that you can zoom into by just clicking check boxes. Tracks are just the beginning of what can be logged, and the development team is working on myriad ways to get data easily, if not automatically, from your boat to the cloud. In a few weeks there will be smartphone apps that will let you notate events like sail or weather changes that will get bundled with the phone’s GPS info and either stored or sent to the BoatLogger cloud if possible. There’s also an API (application programing interface) so other developers can contribute data to your BoatLogger site or use it in other ways. Plus, there’s planned support for data loggers and satellite trackers like Spot and inReach (I’ve already enabled the latter, which looks to be fully automated but currently has a bug). Finally, there’s a future BoatLogger product called BoatSupervisor that will purportedly integrate NMEA 2000, NMEA 183 and Seatalk instrument data (and even onboard camera output) to push up to your online log!
BoatLogger also lets you create logs manually and import tracks in several file formats. This area needs lots of work, but I was able to import a couple of tracks collected with the Garmin quatix watch I’m long testing (with Garmin’s free BaseCamp — HomePort works, too — used as the software intermediary that can export the tracks as KML files). If you click on the title of my “Hotel – Flibs” log segment, you’ll see that I was easily able to link in some appropriate photos and that BoatLogger is ready to capture engine, fuel and weather data, once I have an easy means to collect it.
Here’s what I’ve dubbed the “social” aspects of BoatLogger. I like how they have integrated in big social networks you may already be using. The FaceBook stream does work some of the time, incidentally, and there’s also a data pane that can stream an existing blogger of WordPress blog. But BoatLogger has its own “friend” feature that I hope to try with readers who join the Beta test. Meanwhile, the Pro version at $39/year offers the GuestBook pane and what seems to be a sophisticated crew management database…
Where the paid Pro service really comes into play is if you want to use your BoatLogger site to organize maintenance details. Uploading PDFs is already easy (though I wish you could also open them online) and initial testing of the inspection and maintenance panes revealed some good thinking. A maintenance cost, for instance, will also show up in your “Ownership” pane (which might get a more colorful title on some sites ;-). Note the inset at the top right of this screen; it shows how I was able to see what this page looks like to a friend. If you go there as the general public, you won’t see the “Ownership” pane at all. These are the sort of design nuances that makes me think that BoatLogger is a service I might want to use for a long time.
In the meantime, though, there are many bugs and many aspects to be completed. I hope beta testers will take the challenge seriously and deliver lots of feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone who registers can test the free parts of BoatLogger right now, and even get a month of Pro features to try. But the first 50 Panbo readers who go to Account/Subscriptions, choose any plan, and then enter the coupon code BETA will get at least 6 months of Pro service. You will have to go through a Paypal checkout, which will set up a future payment, but you will be warned before any payment is made and can always quit or downgrade for free beforehand.
More than money, though, is the fear of putting effort into a new idea that doesn’t last, which is why I questioned BoatLogger’s Per Magnusson about the company background and commitment to the long haul. I learned that besides years of tech consulting the IT Tack team was behind an early and smart marine app and according to Per, “We have tip-top funding…and we will foresee that BoatLogger will spawn out a few natural add-ons later. All of us are keen boaters and we put into the site what we want to have and see ourselves.” Sounds, and looks, good to me.
I have been living aboard this buoyant piece of formed aluminum for more than three years now, and I don’t mind admitting that I am still figuring this whole sailing game out. Once upon a time, friends tried to lure us back home with the carrot that the beautiful lots down the street from their house were for sale. We joked that we would just dig a big hole, put Papillon in it and watch everyone’s property value plummet. But now, while we wait for the endless Christmas holidays to be over and for our thrust bearing assembly doodads to arrive, I kind of feel like Papillon is sitting in that hole. As December wore on, our neighbours sailed out, one by one, for holiday adventures on the lagoon. And we sat. We stayed. We sighed.
But last week, some new friends invited us out on their boat for the afternoon. And it was a revelation to your correspondent. This opened a whole new world to me: the world of Mooching a Ride On Someone Else’s Boat.Erik took the tiller at the earliest opportunity.
Why did no one tell me about this before? It’s perfect! Advantages: You get to go sailing. Broken boat parts are Someone Else’s Problem. You can test-drive another boat. You have built-in company for an afternoon. Did I mentioned you get to go sailing? It had been so long, I would have taken a raft and a bed sheet tied to an old oar through the lagoon if someone had made a half-hearted effort to convince me it was seaworthy.
After years of using the wheel, it was fun to try a tiller. As I never learned how to sail “properly” on a dinghy (Erik still schemes to enroll me in a children’s sailing class), I still find I am not intuitive with the backwards steering. (My dear husband points out that it is just the same as using the outboard motor. This is marriage, kids.) But I kept us on course, and we didn’t get in irons, so let’s call it a win.
We ate, we swam, we ate some more, then we hauled up the spinnaker and headed for home.
So I am going to keep my ears open from now on in case our neighbours need an extra hand on a Sunday afternoon. Pot washer, babysitter, main sheet adjuster or extra pair of eyes on the reef – the Papillon crew will be there to help. And when Papillon is back in action, we’ll be on the lookout for other hopeful sailors walking the docks and sighing. Everyone needs to mooch a ride, sometimes.
We look ahead at 2014 with great anticipation: Now that the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea, and Straits of Malacca are behind us, it’s inevitable that the eyes wander west towards the Indian Ocean. Even contemplating the next leap makes me a little giddy. Deceptively open on the map, there are myriad small corners to learn about, dots on the map that the line of our route may wind through and around. Like the South Pacific, many have names that feel entirely foreign, and it’s hard to imagine now how they will someday feel as familiar to me as those Pacific names like Vava’u, Raiatea, Suwarrow, Efate and others rang strangely before our crossing in 2010. Languages to hear, cultures to experience, friends to meet.There’s a lot of homework as we proceed towards this next big step. To dive into preparations, last year I took on management of a loosely organized group of boats planning 2014 Indian Ocean crossings, sharing information to aid in our plans for the passages between Southeast Asia and South Africa. It’s been the perfect way to fast forward learning, and connect with other boats on a similar path. Along with the daydreams of far off places, I’ve had my head stuck in the more practical side of pilot charts and route planning. There are just a few things we have to do first. See, there’s this problem with our radar. We’d really like to have a functional radar, which means- well, a new radar. Later diagnosis: dead radar. Still sold new at retail, but Raymarine won’t support it. Gah. And then there’s our battery bank, which is on it’s last legs. We need to repair the headsail, the forwardmost hatch, the dodger, and certify the lift raft. Safety essentials that we won’t leave without addressing. Jamie has excellent sailmaking skills, so we’ll look for a sewing machine to beg/borrow for our repairs The main cabin settee covers are literally disintegrating, so they’ll need recovering, as the foam cushions beneath are starting to get damaged. The settees look OK at a distance, but are breaking down after five years of hard use
That’s just the short list. There’s an even longer wish list of basic cosmetics and comfort that includes the awning, our cockpit table, cockpit cushions, the mainsail cover, our overburdened refrigeration system, and those ungracefully aging originals to Totem, the yellowed Formica counters and basket weave embossed vinyl headliner. Can I whitewash the cabin while we’re at it? Hopefully we can get to some of these.Our stopgap cockpit cushions are thin pool-cover foam sheets. They’re not surviving the UV well. We’re not comfortable cruisers with an allowance from secure investments at home, or ongoing part time work that brings a sufficient income stream. We’ve been stringing ourselves along since we left in 2008: making a bit here and there, spending as little as we can, salvaging the kitty with stint of work in Australia. The list of pre-Indian Ocean projects is easily in five figures, which is daunting. Thus our plans, as cruising plans are wont to do, are up in the air while we evaluate the options. We might still cross the Indian Ocean in 2014, but far more likely scenario that we’ll stay in Southeast Asia instead. There are a few possibilities for work. It’s inexpensive living. It’s a good place to work on the boat.
Is this disappointing? Hardly. We have studiously avoided the P word in the past. Grand plans were never truly plans, but intentions. We are not the cruisers who lay out a three year plan to circumnavigate and do it. Our goals are a little different, and more centered around a life afloat as a family than a geographic goal. Oh, there might be a disappointed fourteen year old on board who is quick to remind us he would really like to get to the Med. We’d like for him to get there, too! And so, we…plan, to patch things together with an eye to when, and not if.
If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’ve just tipped change into our cruising kitty Indian Ocean preparation budget- thank you!