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Siren Marine cellular boat monitoring long test, reliable & powerful

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-08-11 14:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 11, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Boat theft is very rare in Maine, but on a recent Saturday night someone apparently “borrowed” a big twin outboard off a local dock for a “joy ride” during which something was hit hard enough to hole the topsides, and then they put the boat back on the dock and vanished! To my knowledge the mystery remains unsolved, but it sure jogged my memory about the Set feature on the Siren Marine cellular monitoring system I’ve been testing for over two years. The partial phone screen above shows what happened when Gizmo moved more than about 15 meters several days after I texted the “SET” command to the Siren. First I was notified that she’d TRANSGRESsed the geofence set up by the SET command and then the Siren started texting me every five minutes with GAT (Geofence Automatic Time-based) reports that included course, speed and a lat/long link to Google Maps. I could have guided the Maine Marine Patrol to the transgressor pretty quickly, if the “villain” hadn’t been myself…

Click on the screen above for more detail on the same geofence test, including an inset of a Google Map link (showing Gizmo near a granite breakwater testing the now functioning EchoPilot FLS). Here the messages are in email form because one of the four phone numbers the Siren can text is set to be my Google Voice account, which can pass along texts as emails. By my count the Siren delivered almost every 5 minutes a GAT report until I disarmed it with the NOSET command, and that’s been a key finding in my long test. The Siren system is wonderfully reliable, even in the very odd texting situation found here in Camden. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and other cell phones work pretty well here in all regards, but devices that use GSM SMS messaging often do not. I couldn’t get the Maretron SMS100 to work here, though I tried both AT&T and T-Mobile SIM cards, and I couldn’t get a C-Pod AT&T-based system to work here either. In fact, the Siren had trouble at first, too, but as I described in my first Siren review, founder Dan Harper dug into the problem and solved it with a service plan that’s worked fine just about every day Gizmo has been in Camden or anywhere else during the last two years.

Gizmo Siren3: Siren Backup batt % : 100 ; Ext batt volt: 13.47 Siren Current temp 41F, Highest recorded temp 46F, Lowest recorded temp 39F. 12:41 PM

I just got the text above and hence know that Gizmo’s solar panels are working well today and the refrigerator temperature (where I installed the Sprint’s included probe) is just where I’d expect when no one has been on board using it. I left this running all winter even when the boat was hauled, because it turned out that the panels could keep the batteries up even under white shrink wrap, except for about one dreary dark week around Christmas when I felt obliged to run the shore power cord, thanks to Siren monitoring. Recently, I changed the reporting to twice a day, about midnight and noon, so I can also see the battery bank level at rest with no solar input. The number of messages is not a concern because these days Siren’s plan is unlimited to all four possible phone numbers (for $180 a year if paid that way).

So I remain impressed with the Siren system, and it continues to eliminate some anxiety from owning a beloved boat (an anxiety you may be in denial about until the boat starts texting you “all is well” messages). On the other hand, I’ve been lazy about trying other Siren features and so last week I fooled around with bilge level and entry alarms and even a relay. It was no surprise that everything worked well (when I had the right sensor), and it was good to see that Siren’s install documentation has gotten truly refined. I still hold out hope for a monitoring system that integrates my boat’s existing NMEA 2000 sensors — and plan to try the Maretron SMS100 again once I get out of Camden — but must admit that the Garmin GDL 40 that I once imagined as evolving into a great multi-purpose N2K cellular link isn’t even offered anymore..

I am disappointed that Siren hasn’t yet released the Android app that would make texting commands to the device as easy as it is for someone with an iPhone, but I note that they have gathered an attractive stable of sensors and relays that are proven to work with their system. They’re also willing to help customers design a particular boat’s system and can even create custom commands, as illustrated below. The diagram and spreadsheet forwarded by Dan Harper show a system where either a motion or a snap sensor can fire off a horn as well as text the owner, among other features like keeping an eye on shore power. There’s something to be said for a marine electronics company that does one thing well (even if it goes against my “glass bridge” vision of the future).

Siren Marine only covers U.S. waters, but are they the best cellular monitoring choice given that limitation? I believe that GOST offers remarkable security systems for big boats and also have deep experience outfoxing the professional thieves who lurk around south Florida and the Caribbean. But who besides Siren is offering security and system monitoring to smaller coastal boats like mine? Please share your thoughts. Also, if you are interested in a Siren system, there’s now a 15% hardware discount — “Pixie or Sprite and any accessories” — if you enter the code “PANBO SUMMER” and also purchase a service plan. Thanks, Dan!

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Podcast: Log of Arcturus: Into the Baltic

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-08 04:46

This week’s essay Friday is an excerpt from the Log of Arcturus, which I keep onboard the boat. Written by hand, as it’s happening, the log is a diary of sorts about our travels. This was written in August of 2012, almost exactly two years ago, during the 3-day passage from Malmo on Sweden’s southwest coast to Visby, on the island of Gotland. It’s good timing, as starting after work today, we’ll be on vacation for the next three weeks, heading this time out of the Baltic and essentially retracing our steps from this here trip. It’s fun to read what I’ve written and see what goes on in my head on those late, solo night watches. Hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed reliving it!

DOUSING THE MAINSAIL: Do It After You Park The Boat

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-08-07 22:11

I do a fair amount of singlehanded coastal cruising during the summer, usually just going out for a quick overnight whenever an opportunity presents itself. When departing my mooring at Portland Yacht Services (or any mooring for that matter), it has long been my practice to raise the mainsail before dropping the mooring pennant. That way I can get sailing ASAP, usually immediately. When anchoring or picking up a mooring, however, my habit for many years has been to douse and stow the mainsail first, then secure the boat.

But when you’re sailing singlehanded this is often stressful, particularly on the Maine coast during the summer, when there are lobster pots everywhere waiting to catch a turning propeller. Sometimes I’ve felt like a Keystone Cop, running back and forth between the cockpit and the main boom to make adjustments to the autopilot to dodge pots while stowing the sail. Even when there aren’t pots around, there are usually other things to keep an eye on–rocks, shoals, other boats, etc.–unless you play it super-safe and stow your main a mile or more before you really need to.

This year it finally dawned on me to try it the other way around: pick up the mooring, or drop the anchor, then drop the sail.

I’ve found it makes an enormous difference. With both the main up and the engine running I can make a perfectly controlled approach to a mooring or anchoring spot. There’s no juggling act, where I need to both mind the approach while simultaneously stowing the sail, and in most cases I actually only need to put the engine in gear briefly at the very end of the process. In many cases I needn’t put the engine in gear at all, and it is running only as a precaution.

If I’m picking up a mooring, I usually douse the sail immediately afterwards, to keep the boat from sailing around on it. But once the sail is down (see photo up top) I can just leave it there and tidy it up and tie in the stops at my leisure. If I’m dropping an anchor, what I usually do is back the main by hand by pushing the boom up to windward to get the boat backing down on its anchor rode. Then I drop the sail and focus on perfecting my set before putting the stops on.

I’m sure some of you are now slapping your foreheads, remarking on what a dope I am for not figuring this out earlier, because you, in your infinite wisdom, have been doing it this way all along. But I don’t guess there are too many of those. I’ve been watching sailboats come into anchorages and mooring fields for decades now, and most people have their mainsails stowed long before they park.

Many more of you, I’m sure, are thinking what I really need to do is install lazyjacks, so I can just release the main halyard during a parking approach and worry about tying in the stops whenever, or maybe even never. But personally I’ve always found lazyjacks to be a major nuisance when you’re doing anything with a mainsail other than dropping it.

Others, of course, may be patting themselves on the back for having in-mast furling mainsails, but I am even more prejudiced against those than I am against lazyjacks. Crippling your sail’s performance just so you can put it away easily seems like a non-starter to me, unless you’re dealing with a very large mainsail on a very large boat.

One big advantage of mooring or anchoring a boat with the mainsail up is that it makes you look competent. Like maybe you’re Don Street or Larry Pardey and don’t even need an engine to park your boat. If this is what you actually aspire to, this is a very good way to practice before you do in fact throw your engine overboard.

There are certain provisos. First, you should in fact be reasonably competent at picking up a mooring or setting an anchor before trying this, particularly if you are sailing singlehanded. If parking is always a fire drill for you, having the mainsail up during the drill won’t make it any less exciting. I’m now accustomed to having the main up during a normal head-to-wind approach, but in an unusual situation where, say, due to strong current I had to come in downwind or across the wind I would probably take it down first.

Second, you do have to pick your moments. When making an approach, if I can’t see clearly where I’ll be ending up–i.e., if I obviously will have to hunt around for a mooring or a spot to anchor–I still drop the main beforehand. I also still do this if the mooring field or anchorage in question is crowded and the wind is blowing hard.

With competent crew aboard you can cut your provisos much more closely, perhaps even delete them, but if you’e singlehanded I think it’s still smart to be cautious.

DOUSING THE MAINSAIL: Do It After You Park The Boat

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-08-07 22:11

I do a fair amount of singlehanded coastal cruising during the summer, usually just going out for a quick overnight whenever an opportunity presents itself. When departing my mooring at Portland Yacht Services (or any mooring for that matter), it has long been my practice to raise the mainsail before dropping the mooring pennant. That way I can get sailing ASAP, usually immediately. When anchoring or picking up a mooring, however, my habit for many years has been to douse and stow the mainsail first, then secure the boat.

But when you’re sailing singlehanded this is often stressful, particularly on the Maine coast during the summer, when there are lobster pots everywhere waiting to catch a turning propeller. Sometimes I’ve felt like a Keystone Cop, running back and forth between the cockpit and the main boom to make adjustments to the autopilot to dodge pots while stowing the sail. Even when there aren’t pots around, there are usually other things to keep an eye on–rocks, shoals, other boats, etc.–unless you play it super-safe and stow your main a mile or more before you really need to.

This year it finally dawned on me to try it the other way around: pick up the mooring, or drop the anchor, then drop the sail.

I’ve found it makes an enormous difference. With both the main up and the engine running I can make a perfectly controlled approach to a mooring or anchoring spot. There’s no juggling act, where I need to both mind the approach while simultaneously stowing the sail, and in most cases I actually only need to put the engine in gear briefly at the very end of the process. In many cases I needn’t put the engine in gear at all, and it is running only as a precaution.

If I’m picking up a mooring, I usually douse the sail immediately afterwards, to keep the boat from sailing around on it. But once the sail is down (see photo up top) I can just leave it there and tidy it up and tie in the stops at my leisure. If I’m dropping an anchor, what I usually do is back the main by hand by pushing the boom up to windward to get the boat backing down on its anchor rode. Then I drop the sail and focus on perfecting my set before putting the stops on.

I’m sure some of you are now slapping your foreheads, remarking on what a dope I am for not figuring this out earlier, because you, in your infinite wisdom, have been doing it this way all along. But I don’t guess there are too many of those. I’ve been watching sailboats come into anchorages and mooring fields for decades now, and most people have their mainsails stowed long before they park.

Many more of you, I’m sure, are thinking what I really need to do is install lazyjacks, so I can just release the main halyard during a parking approach and worry about tying in the stops whenever, or maybe even never. But personally I’ve always found lazyjacks to be a major nuisance when you’re doing anything with a mainsail other than dropping it.

Others, of course, may be patting themselves on the back for having in-mast furling mainsails, but I am even more prejudiced against those than I am against lazyjacks. Crippling your sail’s performance just so you can put it away easily seems like a non-starter to me, unless you’re dealing with a very large mainsail on a very large boat.

One big advantage of mooring or anchoring a boat with the mainsail up is that it makes you look competent. Like maybe you’re Don Street or Larry Pardey and don’t even need an engine to park your boat. If this is what you actually aspire to, this is a very good way to practice before you do in fact throw your engine overboard.

There are certain provisos. First, you should in fact be reasonably competent at picking up a mooring or setting an anchor before trying this, particularly if you are sailing singlehanded. If parking is always a fire drill for you, having the mainsail up during the drill won’t make it any less exciting. I’m now accustomed to having the main up during a normal head-to-wind approach, but in an unusual situation where, say, due to strong current I had to come in downwind or across the wind I would probably take it down first.

Second, you do have to pick your moments. When making an approach, if I can’t see clearly where I’ll be ending up–i.e., if I obviously will have to hunt around for a mooring or a spot to anchor–I still drop the main beforehand. I also still do this if the mooring field or anchorage in question is crowded and the wind is blowing hard.

With competent crew aboard you can cut your provisos much more closely, perhaps even delete them, but if you’e singlehanded I think it’s still smart to be cautious.

When the Army Runs a Carnival

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-08-04 21:46

One of the first rules of cruising is: accept every invitation. (This is also one of the first rules of life, especially for an introvert like me.) So, when a friend invited us to the local military open house, I said yes.
“It’s lots of fun,” said Camille. “They have lots of activities for the kids.”
I nodded, and wondered what that meant. I was a little surprised that Camille, of all people, was suggesting this outing.  This is a woman who steadfastly refuses to let her kids watch violence on television, play mock-battles, or otherwise engage in any aggressive activity.
“If Camille thinks this is a wholesome family activity,” I thought, “then it must be okay.”
So, on a cloudy Sunday morning, we headed out to Camp Broche, more properly known as Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine du Pacifique Nouvelle-Calédonie.

We have seen a lot of signs of the military over our four years on the water.  As we travelled down the East coast of the USA and through the Caribbean, we saw Coast Guard ships, aircraft carriers and submarines. We heard notices on VHF 16 warning us away from certain zones while exercises were being performed. As we sailed down the ICW toward Norfolk, Virginia, a very polite young man on the enormous warship behind us asked if they might sidle past. 

Ma’am, would you mind if we passed you?


Most of our military experiences have been with Americans, and I can sum them up this way: always polite, always correct, always at arm’s length. If you want cuddly, don’t go looking to the US. If you want a tour of a naval vessel, you’re far better advised to snag a Kiwi captain in the ice cream shop, as we did.

When we first arrived in Noumea, we anchored in Baie d’Orphelinat, which, in French style, doubles as a practice area for the military. As we enjoyed a morning cup of tea, we watched troops jump out of planes, swim across the bay in full gear (rifles at the ready), and practice the shoreline obstacle course. With that in the back of my mind, I wondered just what these tough men and women had planned for us at Camp Broche.

I shouldn’t have worried. I think I put it best in an email to Erik later that evening:

Subject: zomfg best day ever!!!

The défense open house was a hoot!  Imagine an elementary school carnival run by the army, French-style.  It was surreal and hilarious, and I am so sorry you missed it.  Attached is a by-no-means comprehensive selection of what we did. And then I proceeded to send Erik a thousand pictures of our day. I’m conflicted.  On the one hand, war is a serious business. You may not glamorize it. That is not cool. On the other hand, this was probably the most fun outing we’ve had in New Cal. And it was not a day of “kill, kill, kill” – it was more, “Lookit! We have the coolest gear!”

We started with the obstacle course:

Followed by some light mine sweeping:

A quick trip through the night vision obstacle course:

Down a zipline from three stories up:

And a quick ride on a police motorcycle, just to round things out:

Lest we forget where this all took place, there were some rather French-specific carnival games mixed in.  Aside from familiar stand-bys such as the fishpond and the dart throw, there was also the Egg Smash.

“What is that?” I asked Camille, pointing to the tent.
She shrugged. “Just the egg smash. You know, they put raw eggs on a stump, then you throw boules at them.”
I looked in the tent.  Sure enough, people of all ages were lined up to throw bocce balls at eggs on a stump. I still can’t get my head around it.

Is this really happening? Yep, I see it, too. People, this is why you travel.  Not just to watch your kids hurtle down a zipline into the arms of a waiting 18-year old in camo gear. But also to smash eggs for no good reason.

AUTOPILOT FAILURE: Back Across the Gulf of Maine

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-08-04 14:44

I knew this day would come. I recently discussed having to make up new wood-chip “fuses” for the “electric vane” rig on Lunacy, and in the whole time I’ve owned the boat, about eight years now, this has been the only repair I’ve had to do to keep my autopilot system going. But the small tiller-pilot that is the brains of the operation is very old, and I did expect it would fail eventually. Which is what happened when Mr. Lassen and I were scuttling home from Nova Scotia a few days ago.

It wasn’t a big deal at the time, as I have two back-up systems and immediately deployed both, per the photo up top. There is another tiller-pilot, a larger one, that connects directly to the tiller in the conventional fashion, rather than the windvane head, and this can steer the boat when motoring or in light sailing conditions. Also, of course, the wind paddle can be installed on the vane head, so the windvane can be used in the regular way, with the wind instead of the little tiller-pilot providing course data. In the photo here I’ve locked the vane head and dropped the paddle, as the big tiller-pilot is actually doing the steering.

I always worried about having to replace the antique Autohelm 2000 unit I connected to the windvane, until last year that is, when my good friend Jay Paris, a yacht designer and SAIL Magazine’s technical consultant of many decades standing, stepped aboard Lunacy and saw my steering rig.

“I have something for you,” he said with his patented dead-pan smile.

And miracle of miracles, a week later he presented me with a brand new never-been-used Autohelm 2000 unit, still in its original packaging. He explained he had been given this many moons ago to maybe test someday for the magazine, but had never actually gotten around to it.

My old and new Autohelm 2000 units side by side

Googling around a bit I see that Autohelm wasn’t acquired by Raytheon’s recreational marine division (now Raymarine) until 1990, so I reckon my “new” pilot was produced sometime in the late 1980s.

I reckon too I’ll have to give Jay a big hug and a kiss next time I see him.

Beyond the pilot failure, our Gulf of Maine transit was fairly routine. We left Lockeport in Nova Scotia early on Wednesday and all that day, passing around Cape Sable and out into the Gulf, were motoring in heavy fog. Thursday morning the fog finally lifted and we got just enough breeze to start sailing.

Closehauled in the Gulf, before the pilot failed

It’s always a fantastic feeling, after spending many hours afloat in fog, when you can at last see again. And it is also a fantastic feeling, after spending many hours motoring, when you can at last shut down the engine. So we spent all day Thursday in a double-fantastic-feeling sort of mood.

Mr. Lassen celebrated by donning his favorite tropical holiday shirt.

And I celebrated by doing a little product placement for beer and cigar companies.

Late in the day, on toward sunset, the wind picked up and our sailing angle opened up to a close reach. We had a fast easy night and managed to reach Casco Bay just before sunrise on Friday.

I’ll let you know how it goes getting the new pilot up to speed. Initially the only problem I anticipated was finding a DriPlug connector so I could plug the new control unit’s power line into my existing deck socket. But lo, it turns out the new unit actually comes with a DriPlug connector. So no worries there.

Also, I did figure out that DriPlug, a British firm, is still in business. These on-deck 12-volt fittings work great and are very secure and weatherproof. Lunacy‘s original owner, Bob Petterson, installed them all over the boat many years ago and they’ve never given me a lick of trouble.

AUTOPILOT FAILURE: Back Across the Gulf of Maine

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-08-04 14:44

I knew this day would come. I recently discussed having to make up new wood-chip “fuses” for the “electric vane” rig on Lunacy, and in the whole time I’ve owned the boat, about eight years now, this has been the only repair I’ve had to do to keep my autopilot system going. But the small tiller-pilot that is the brains of the operation is very old, and I did expect it would fail eventually. Which is what happened when Mr. Lassen and I were scuttling home from Nova Scotia a few days ago.

It wasn’t a big deal at the time, as I have two back-up systems and immediately deployed both, per the photo up top. There is another tiller-pilot, a larger one, that connects directly to the tiller in the conventional fashion, rather than the windvane head, and this can steer the boat when motoring or in light sailing conditions. Also, of course, the wind paddle can be installed on the vane head, so the windvane can be used in the regular way, with the wind instead of the little tiller-pilot providing course data. In the photo here I’ve locked the vane head and dropped the paddle, as the big tiller-pilot is actually doing the steering.

I always worried about having to replace the antique Autohelm 2000 unit I connected to the windvane, until last year that is, when my good friend Jay Paris, a yacht designer and SAIL Magazine’s technical consultant of many decades standing, stepped aboard Lunacy and saw my steering rig.

“I have something for you,” he said with his patented dead-pan smile.

And miracle of miracles, a week later he presented me with a brand new never-been-used Autohelm 2000 unit, still in its original packaging. He explained he had been given this many moons ago to maybe test someday for the magazine, but had never actually gotten around to it.

My old and new Autohelm 2000 units side by side

Googling around a bit I see that Autohelm wasn’t acquired by Raytheon’s recreational marine division (now Raymarine) until 1990, so I reckon my “new” pilot was produced sometime in the late 1980s.

I reckon too I’ll have to give Jay a big hug and a kiss next time I see him.

Beyond the pilot failure, our Gulf of Maine transit was fairly routine. We left Lockeport in Nova Scotia early on Wednesday and all that day, passing around Cape Sable and out into the Gulf, were motoring in heavy fog. Thursday morning the fog finally lifted and we got just enough breeze to start sailing.

Closehauled in the Gulf, before the pilot failed

It’s always a fantastic feeling, after spending many hours afloat in fog, when you can at last see again. And it is also a fantastic feeling, after spending many hours motoring, when you can at last shut down the engine. So we spent all day Thursday in a double-fantastic-feeling sort of mood.

Mr. Lassen celebrated by donning his favorite tropical holiday shirt.

And I celebrated by doing a little product placement for beer and cigar companies.

Late in the day, on toward sunset, the wind picked up and our sailing angle opened up to a close reach. We had a fast easy night and managed to reach Casco Bay just before sunrise on Friday.

I’ll let you know how it goes getting the new pilot up to speed. Initially the only problem I anticipated was finding a DriPlug connector so I could plug the new control unit’s power line into my existing deck socket. But lo, it turns out the new unit actually comes with a DriPlug connector. So no worries there.

Also, I did figure out that DriPlug, a British firm, is still in business. These on-deck 12-volt fittings work great and are very secure and weatherproof. Lunacy‘s original owner, Bob Petterson, installed them all over the boat many years ago and they’ve never given me a lick of trouble.

59º North Podcast: Ret. USCG Rescue Swimmer Mario Vittone

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-08-03 23:10

Mario Vittone is a Navy vet and retired USCG rescue swimmer with a resume that will blow your mind. Andy got in touch with him via a mutual friend, and had an interesting chat about his experience in helo rescues at sea, cold water immersion, safety offshore and more. They discussed the recent Cheeki Rafiki search, the sinking of the Bounty and how Mario’s career has recently transitioned from on-the-scene rescue ops to consultancy work and a successful writing career. Mario writes regularly on gCaptain.com and for various industry magazines and publications. Check out his own website at mariovittone.com. Enjoy episode 41!

How do you stay fit while cruising?

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-08-03 06:53

Cruising is a healthy lifestyle, where exercise is a natural part of every day. What a great lifestyle to stay fit and feel great! Right? Right?


Yeah…it’s not quite like that. There’s truth in it, but staying physical fitness doesn’t just happen: it still takes effort, and commitment.

Before we left

Pre-cruising, I was in pretty good shape: jogging and practicing yoga a few times a week, and walking a lot (my commute to work involved a few miles every weekday). I traveled routinely for work and just tracked down local yoga studios or explored a new place on an early morning run. Traveling and fitness were easy, so I thought the segue into cruising would be a breeze too. I’d just stay in decent shape without having to think about it too hard. More time for running, and yoga, and lots and lots of walking, right?

My shorts shrank, I swear

That’s not how it worked out for me at all. We had been cruising for about a year when I looked very jealously at Jamie’s six pack, and my encroaching pudge, and though… huh.  What’s happening? And whoa, is HE looking so good! Jamie’s had gone from trim surburban dad to hot cruising husband. Why him, and not me? We were both walking a lot, but he did the brunt of heaver physical labor on Totem. I wasn’t running (have you seen the roads and sidewalks in Mexico?!). I wasn’t practicing yoga (it turns out having a class to participate in is a big motivator for me). On the other hand, I was eating a lot of fantastic Mexican food washed down with icy Pacifico beer. He was exercising more than previously. I was exercising less and definitely not fitter than our “old life.” Flabbier. It was a sobering realization.

possibly afternoons of cards with calorie-laden snacks and a cocktail had something to do with it, too

Fitness equipment

Should you get equipment to help you with fitness on board? I don’t know; do you have a dusty NordicTrack in your basement? Before leaving, I had gotten elastic bands. They seemed like a great way to get some exercise in a small space, especially on a passage. I finally gave them away after they sat virtually un-used for two years.

If you can add gear and will actually use it, there are options ranging from portable stair-steppers that fit in the cockpit to kettlebells- some cruisers even manage a TRX system. I think it’s mostly superfluous: as Jan Irons (Commuter Cruiser) shows, your boat IS a gym: her companionway makes a fine built in stair-stepper. Or, take a look at the Facebook page for fitness afloat wonderwoman, Rebecca Sweeney: she knows how to get a workout anywhere, whether it’s the deck of a boat or the beach (while her charter guests are in the beachfront bar no less). She has some workout-specific gear, but overwhelmingly, simply uses what’s around her. She’s a phenomenal role model for fitness afloat, and I especially love how much she just looks like she’s having so much FUN- if/when we get to the Caribbean, I want to do workouts with Rebecca!

Now what?

It took me a while to find what worked best, and even then, it takes regular adjustment based on our location, or the weather, or other factors. Sometimes, there just aren’t roads to run on. Other times, we’re in places where it’s inappropriate to show a lot of skin by wearing a tank top and shorts to workout public.

It’s not socially acceptable to show a lot of skin here, and I can’t imagine working out in one of these tents

What works for me

I still run, although not as much as I’d like. My MP3 player and our ipod have both succumbed to salty air (RIP, but they did last more than seven years each!), and I don’t do well without a soundtrack. On the other hand, being tune-less gives me even more motivation to find running partners, because the best advice EVER is “if you’re running too fast to talk, you’re running too fast.” It’s a two-fer: good exercise, and time to catch up with a friend. And, it’s a huge motivator. When Kathy says she’s picking me up in the dinghy at 7:30 so we can hit the trails at the bottom of this mountain in Langkawi, I am ready to go at 7:30. I might be barely functional and toting my coffe mug, but I’m decent and I’ve got my shoes.

I practice yoga whenever I can. We have a perfectly mat-sized spot on the bow, but it’s often covered with an awning- great shade to cool the cabin below but no room for me. So, I’m always looking for the alternatives: here in peninsular Malaysia, there’s a paucity of anchorages but many reasonable marinas, and those marinas often have attached hotels with fitness facilities. We’re currently at Puteri Harbour, Malaysia, where I can sign up for gym and pool time. My standing “booking” for a morning slot in the Fitness Center is another excellent motivator: I can’t miss it, so I don’t, and I get a great practice in with a pretty view besides.

I walk. A lot. I’m always looking for an excuse, whether it’s for fun or to get a job done. Is there a hill near the anchorage? I must climb it and see the view! No special equipment required, and often a new friend or two to make- like the two guys below who helped me find an obscure trail to a temple above Jayapura, Indonesia. And then, there are groceries to lug. Since we’re not piling them into the back of the van on a run from the grocery store, but carrying everything by hand, we shop more often and in smaller quantities. Little bits of exercise, all the time.

I get in the water: swimming is great exercise, and kayaking is good too. Sometimes (and lately, a lot) the water isn’t exactly conducive to a swim, like in a marina (stray current, and lots of nasty stuff being pumped over, deliberately and inadvertently), but we spend most of our time at anchor. Laps around the boat are a great way to burn up some energy and have fun at the same time. Maximizing down time on a pretty reef is even better: when we’re in a place with cool marine life, we all spend hours underwater most days, tearing through calories. Adding a SUP to Totem is high on my wishlist, in great part because it looks like such a fun way to stay fit on the water (bonus: additional yoga platform!).

What works for you? You’ll find out. And maybe, like me, it will take a learning curve, and some tighter shorts, before you find the routine and habits that work best for you.

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

 

The DIY lithium battery bank; Bob Ebaugh has 330 cycles so far

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-01 14:09

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 1, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Bob and Elaine Ebaugh did it, leaving Florida in April, 2011, on their DeFever 44 Mar Azul and spending more than two years cruising a big Caribbean loop. Their blog, Mar Azul Adventures, is a good read, but you might miss the fact that during the cruise Bob managed to research, assemble, test and install a 1,200 amp hour do-it-yourself lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery bank to replace the 12 golf cart batteries they’d worn out. He also wrote a thorough white paper about why he chose DIY lithium and how he put the system together…

Here is Bob’s lithium battery blog entry, but you really should download the 14-page PDF mentioned there. Even if you’re not ready to build your own LiFePO4 battery bank — and most of us probably shouldn’t at this point — Bob seems to have done a fine job of analyzing the pros and cons of different battery types, particularly for fairly heavy power users like Mar Azul (at 400-600 Ah per liveaboard day on the hook).

This photo shows the DeFever’s “workshop” (forward cabin). Bob’s first task was to assemble forty-eight individual 3.2V cells made in China by GB Systems into twelve 100 Amp hour 12V batteries, and here I believe he’s bench testing the Elite Power battery management system (BMS) whose components are seen below. His PDF gives specifics about where he sourced the GBS cells and BMS and why, as well as a link collection for further research.

There’s a lot to managing lithium batteries properly, and there’s a definite safety concern. Their wonderful ability to take a large charge quickly, thereby reducing generator and/or alternator times, also means that they can release their charge very quickly, which means intense heat in the wrong circumstances. There have apparently been boat fires that originated in lithium battery banks, though the facts usually seem hard to come by (possibly because most marine lithium installs so far have been high-end projects).

At any rate, I’d suggest that anyone (including myself) who doesn’t thoroughly understand Bob’s well-written explanation of how he set up his BMS, diagrammed above, and adjusted his various charging sources for their new LiFePO4 target should not consider a DIY lithium bank. But I’m really glad that guys like Bob are trying such things and sharing their findings. Note also that since coming back ashore, Bob has been doing marine electronics professionally and hopes to write a Panbo entry about a substantial ePlex distributed power system he’s working on, which will join his earlier pieces on bridging NMEA to Ethernet, his Chetco engine monitoring system, and testing various sat phone systems. Meanwhile, here’s the latest on Mar Azul’s lithium batteries:

The lithium bank is still functioning well. But I have not done any cruising for almost a year now, maybe 2 Saturday nights. I really like the operational characteristics, but the cards are still not all on the table.
About the only thing additional I completed {since writing the white paper} is a benchmark test on capacity. My theoretical 1200 Ah bank is really more like a 1050 Ah bank. So in one year of cruising, theoretically I lost about 15% of rated capacity. What I don’t have is an actual pre-installation benchmark, though the importer suggested that as shipped, and tested the way I did, they would have shown 95% of the rating; so maybe we only lost 10%. We did have 330 cycles in that timeframe.
Some research indicates capacity loss is also very related to calendar life and storage temperature. The end of August gives me another 12 months so I will run another test and see what we have now, with the bank essentially in storage.
There is so much we don’t know. Not only about “life”, but exactly how volatile they are if severely overcharged. This winter, I may buy a few 40Ah cells and do some destructive testing.

RC Collins is apparently also testing lithium marine batteries and he, Bob, and several other marine power luminaries sit on a ABYC subcommittee studying LFP (another name for LiFePO4) battery technology under the chairmanship of Bob’s current boss/mentor Charlie Johnson. Thanks to them all, and don’t we look forward to hearing the results?

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