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With gratitude for Liebster award blog recognition

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

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

It’s Our Necessity (SY Necesse)

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

I live on a boat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8) How much wine is too much?

This is a question?

9) What are you afraid of?

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

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

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

Things We Did Today (SV Dos Libras)

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

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

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

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

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

Patience and respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeschool Ahoy (SV Katsumi)

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

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

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

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

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

Covered above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

LABOR DAY WEEKEND CRUISE: Lasers and Dogs From Outer Space

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

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

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

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

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

Cristobal in action the day before we headed out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David and Catherine aboard their new (to them) Ericson

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

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

Gack!

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

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

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

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

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

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

LABOR DAY WEEKEND CRUISE: Lasers and Dogs From Outer Space

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

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

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

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

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

Cristobal in action the day before we headed out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David and Catherine aboard their new (to them) Ericson

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

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

Gack!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast: John & Amanda Neal

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

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

Not All Ovens Are Created Equal

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

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

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

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

  • one pot with lid
  • one colander

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

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

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

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

So you would think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EchoPilot Platinum FLS, better than expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Podcast: Cutting Loose Down Under

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

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

Catalina Takes a Beating

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

By Kimball Livingston Posted August 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRIDGE TO BRIDGE TODAY

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

MAINE COAST CRUISE: Mouth of the Sheepscot River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our approach to Robinhood

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

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

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

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

The docks at Robinhood Marine

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

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

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

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

Beth Alison on her mooring, looking mysterious

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from across Damariscove’s inland pond, facing south

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

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

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

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

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

Cruising Solutions headsets, testing the Bluetooth update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Escape from Visby: Sailing north in a Baltic Sea snorter

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-08-26 09:08

Note: the photos in the post below look MUCH better in their original form on 59-north.com. Click here to see the article, with accompanying photos, in it’s intended glory.

At 10:30pm, on the fifth night in the harbor of the medieval city of Visby, I dove into the cold, dark water in nothing but a Speedo and my triathlon wetsuit.

It was darker – and colder – than it looks in the photo (if that’s possible). And also rougher. But it was adventure!

Over the previous four nights, the weather had deteriorated to the point that the harbor itself offered little respite. A southwest wind which had been building for days howled into the outer harbor, directing the accompanying swell through the narrow opening between the two enormous manmade breakwaters. For the ferries and commercial traffic in the outer harbor it was nothing but a nuisance. But for the half-dozen or so yachts further in, little Arcturus especially, life at the dock was miserable.

The surge from the storm – a deep depression situated well to the west over Norway, but spinning furiously and spanning hundreds of miles – found it’s way into the inner guest harbor, lifting and lurching the floating docks and the floating sailboats, bounced off the three concrete walls surrounding the marina and caused more chaos on it’s way back out. The docks moved in opposition to the boats. Several in the adjacent fishing harbor had their cleats torn out of their decks. We saw dented pulpits and ripped up toerails.

Arcturus’ stern mooring on a calmer day…and the lazy duck who used it as his floaty.

Aboard Arcturus, which was moored bow-to to the floating pontoon – a stern line fixed to a floating mooring and fenders out either side (though we had no neighbors – it was low season in August and the harbor was nearly deserted. For good reason perhaps?) – life was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

We’d slowly been learning the local customs when it comes to cruising in Sweden since first arriving in 2011 – reels of nylon webbing, for example, to better control the stern anchor for mooring to the tideless cliffs in the archipelago. But we hadn’t yet learned, from experience anyway, why the Baltic-flagged boats all had these black rubber shock absorbers (they look just like..well, you can use your imagination, but you know what I mean) incorporated into their dock lines. The reasons were obvious enough, but it hadn’t, up to that point, been rough enough for us to feel the need for them on our own boat. Oh how I regretted my decision to leave them on the shelf at the last chandlery we visited in Stockholm.

I improvised. I found a coil of thick, new bungee cord in one of the rarely-visited lockers under the starboard settee. Stuff of the same type, sufficiently doubled and tripled, was strong enough for me to jump out of a cable car 500′ above a ravine in New Zealand, feeling confident that I’d recoil gently before hitting the rocks below. So it should work for our dock lines, right?

Right! I made a quick lashing between a shackle I’d fixed to the metal ring on the dock and the dock line itself, one each side of the bow, reeving the bungee through 5-6 times and tying it off with several half-hitches. We lassoed another stern buoy, just in case, and now had four lines tying us in place, two astern and two off the bow, bungeed to the dock. I added two more bow lines, slack enough that they didn’t come tight until the bungee reach it’s stretching limit, just in case the bungee was stretched beyond this limit and decided to part. Arcturus again rode comfortably and quietly at the dock, while Mia and I traipsed around the 13th-century city admiring the architecture and drinking lots of coffee at the ‘Bok & Musik Cafe’. We started a version of gin rummy that will continue until the end of our long holiday, and that I’m certain Mia will win.

Setting up Sune-the-driver – our Cape Horn wind vane – en route to Gotland. A few hours later, it was dark.

We sailed south to the island of Gotland – once a major trading center practically smack in the middle of the Baltic, where traders brought good and services to and from Northern Europe via the Spice Road to Asia – because initially we’d thought this summer would be the first stage of our journey towards the Swedish west coast, then onto Norway and ultimately the Arctic. We sailed from Fjärdlång in the outer Stockholm archipelago late one evening, planning to make the 75-mile passage south to Lickershamn, on the northern end of Gotland, overnight. Neither Mia nor I were very enthusiastic about the trip, or the prospect of continuing south and west on a tight schedule. We had three weeks off from work. Why push so hard when we had just arrived in the Baltic, and had only scratched the surface of what’s on offer here? Partly because we wanted one more grand adventure before starting a family, partly because since crossing the Atlantic in 2011/12 we’ve felt a little aimless in our sailing, and partly because, well, what else was there to do?

That first night cured us. Before we even got out of sight of land, south of Huvudskär, we both finally admitted to each other what we’d been thinking all along on the inside. That this idea is insanity, we travel so much throughout the year and wouldn’t it be nice to just not follow a schedule and deadline for once? Doing nothing, literally nothing, on this vacation might actually do us some good and teach us a few things about patience and enjoying the moment (myself especially).

Cycle tour around northern Gotland…50 kilometers in half a day.

Though sleeply after going forward, twice, in the dark to change headsails, we had a fantastic sail south under a full moon (for the brief period that it was actually dark – the sun made it’s return in the northeast shortly after 0300). Arcturus close-reached under her heavy 100% jib and double-reefed mainsail, crashing and banging south in the short, steep Baltic Sea chop, but making fast headway. The northwest coast of Gotland emerged shortly after 0700 on my watch, and we sailed in under the high limestone cliffs and into the idyllic fishing village that is Lickershamn. With our schedule abandoned, we ran through the forest tracks on the cliffs, hired bicycles to explore 50km of inland farm roads (and all the coffee shops on the route) and waited for reasonable weather rather than sail the 15 miles south to Visby in the rain. We felt liberated.

Ice cream after a 30km training run on Gotland.

Washing dishes with water from the Baltic.

Arcturus’ anchorage on the cliffs in Fjärdlång.

Cows!

Dogs!

Our regular jumping photo in 13th-century church ruins.

 

My tousled hair was the only giveaway to how my body felt that day…I managed to steer my part.

We left Lickershamn after three days on a fresh southwesterly breeze, knowing full-well we’d be in for a dead beat to Visby. We were getting bored of the sleepy fisherman’s village, so it was time to move again. Motoring clear of the reefs outside the manmade breakwater (there are no natural harbors on Gotland, and yes indeed the reefs – millennia ago when Gotland was situated near the equator – were actual coral reefs at one point in geological history), we set the full mainsail and the small jib, lowered the 400-pound bronze centerboard and set off into the sunshine to the south and Visby. Arcturus made a cool six knots through the water, but our poor tacking angles in our nearly 50-year-old boat gave us a VMG of a much slower three. 15 miles took 6 hours. By the end of it, my hangover was in full-force (I’d gotten a little too enthusiastic listening to Radiohead the night before and drinking red wine in the cozy cabin down below). Mia and I traded helming duties, depending on which tack we were on, and during her stints I was horizontal in the cockpit. I never barfed, but also didn’t get the respite I longed for once we hit the dock. I slept for two hours before I felt human again and could explore the cobbled streets with my wife. She was amused. I haven’t had a drink since (and that was twelve days ago).

Five days in Visby and that southwesterly never let up. Rather just the opposite happened. In hindsight, had we waited any longer in Lickershamn, we’d never have made it south at all. Though the sky was clear and sunny, the wind never relented, blowing even harder in the inner harbor as it funneled between the large ferries berthed on the outside.

We visited some friends-of-friends who owned the nearby Visby Hotell. Over coffee and baguettes, they told us the humorous story of the cruise ship captain who, after dropping his guests off ashore in the ship’s tenders (this particular liner was too large to even enter the outer harbor, remaining instead on the outside in a holding pattern), couldn’t get them back aboard when a different southwesterly blew up. The guests were stranded ashore and had to find accommodation for the night (which pleased our new friends, the hotel proprietors, who were happy to oblige), while the captain wound up severely delayed on the liner’s itinerary, which had already been running late before the incident.

It was later that same night that I wound up in the harbor. By then the wind and swell had built to the point where we couldn’t stand up inside the boat. The shock loads, despite my bungee cord solution, jerked the boat so hard at times when the dock decided to float in the opposite direction, that you easily lost your footing. The noise was awful. It felt as though any minute the bow cleats would rip right out.

I’d had a thought the day before that we ought to string long bow lines right across the dock and over to the moorings on the far side. Though these would normally be reserved as stern buoys for the boat’s laying opposite us, being that it was low season, there were none. We were berthed facing south, more or less in the direction of the funneling wind, and I thought that if we laid on the moorings rather than the dock, the boat would ride more easily. The harbor was too small to anchor out or lay to a mooring in the middle, but this seemed an exciting solution.

So late in the evening, in the midst of a southwesterly gale (there were Level 3 warnings throughout Sweden’s southern coastal areas), I donned my black Speedo and my black tri wetsuit, grabbed a long three-strand anchor rode and dove in. Adrenaline pumping (I felt like James Bond!) I swam out to the first buoy, looped the line through, and swam back. Mia, now accompanied by our neighbor who had emerged from his Dufour 40 to see what all the commotion was about (and who, incidentally, had encouraged me not to dive into the dark water – he, after all, was a  lifeboat captain, and knew how quickly things could deteriorate in situations like these) handed me a second long line, which I swam back out to another buoy before finally returning and clambering back onto the dock with the help of our lifeboat driver friend. I felt invigorated.

Getting ready for action…

Still fits!

Ugh…

Bond. James Bond.

Mission accomplished!

Nearly human again…

 

And rather pleased with myself. Instantly the boat rode better at the dock, the long (about 50′) mooring lines now easily taking the swell without any of the shock loads from the short dock lines. We tied two more bow lines to the dock, loosely, just in case, and tightened up on the two stern buoys. I got to bed before midnight, and managed to fall asleep despite the howl of the wind in the rigging.

At 3am, I woke again, this time to a harsh thud. I knew instinctively, almost before I was fully awake, that the bow had been banging the dock, and that one of our spiderwebs had parted. Wind still howling, I leapt on deck to discover a frayed stern line, the one taking most of the load on the starboard stern buoy, which now floated happily unencumbered about 15′ behind Arcturus. The slack had allowed the boat to inch forward, and it was now bumping the dock with each passing swell.

Mia emerged to help lasso the buoy (for a second time), and this time with plenty of chafe guard (some things only happen once), we re-secured the stern buoy and again tried to get some sleep. My iPhone was set to go off at 6:30, only two-and-a-half hours later, so we could try and get out of the harbor for good, and ride the (hopefully) diminishing southwesterly back north and into the Stockholm archipelago again.

Sleep did manage to find me, but all too soon that damned alarm rang. It was sunny and clear, but the wind kept right on blowing, still from the southwest and still very hard. Mia and I executed to perfection our plan of extricating ourselves from our dock line spiderweb and tentatively motored towards the harbor entrance, halyards attached and anchor ready to run.

The closer we got to the narrow passage between breakwaters, the harder the wind blew and the bigger the swell. Arcturus’ new Beta engine was at it’s (admittedly low) limit, the bow plunging in each wave trough. I nervously glanced at the seawall and back at the knot meter, getting very nervous when our speed dropped below 1 knot, and downright ready to abort the whole plan when I saw 0.2 on the screen. Keeping the bow into the wind and our momentum up was critical. Mia, harnessed in, sat ready at the mast to hoist the jib (though she was by now soaked). My bailout plan was to slam the boat in reverse, let the wind blow the bow around and sail under bare poles back into the harbor and re-establish our position in our secure little spiderweb at the dock.

It was never necessary. All 16 horses in the little Beta mobilized against the wind and seas and we agonizingly made enough headway to windward to hoist the small jib and bear away towards the north. We were safe again on the open sea.

Arcturus took flight ahead of the southwesterly. We broad-reached to the north, aiming more or less towards Lansort, Sune-the-driver, our Cape Horn wind vane handling the helming duties without a complaint. I wasn’t satisfied sailing 5 knots, so we hoisted the reefed mainsail and immediately gained 2.5 knots of boat speed, though the added weather helm made life difficult for Sune (still, he never complained).

We covered 85 miles in 13 hours, averaging Arcturus’ hull speed, and arrived round the corner in Nåttarö to drop the hook just before it got very dark. We found ourselves a calm place to sleep for the first time in nearly a week.

Arcturus calmly at anchor (finally)…

Rowing ashore…not often that we use the dinghy in the archipelago.

Andy’s best tree pose.

Naked swim! 53º F water temp…

 

Upon reflection, our abandoning hopes of heading towards the west coast of Norway was the best thing that happened to us this summer. Still yearning for adventure, I realized on that sail north in the windy southerly, that we are currently having an adventure. For many Swedes, just sailing to Gotland from the mainland is a feat unto itself. It’s a longer trip than crossing the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas, something I recall our cruising friends making a very big deal about when I was a kid aboard Sojourner with my mom and dad, and certainly a colder one. The fact that Mia and I handled the boat in that kind of wind and sea state like it was second nature (it was), makes me very proud of the both of us. Less than eight years ago, Mia had never even set foot on a sailing boat. Now’s she’s crossed the Atlantic more times than I have, and knows, in her bones, how to drive a boat in an 8′ quartering sea with 30 knots of wind blowing over the deck while I sleep soundly on the settee down below.

Now, at last, we’ll enjoy the last seven days of our holiday (Norway now far from our minds) and will be shortly hauling Arcturus for another long winter. We’ve spent the past eight years learning how to thrive on the high seas. Now we’ve got to learn how to relax.

59N Podcast: Kristen Berry

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-08-26 00:00

Kristen Berry is one of the head trainers at J/World Annapolis sailing school. Andy chatted with him in early August about his racing and cruising career, his transition into professional sailing from managing political campaigns (you’d be surprised at the similarities), his thoughts on what racers can learn from cruisers (and vice versa) and how he creates successful trainig programs at J/World and manages successful ocean racing campaigns. J/World Annapolis is now the Official Training Partner of World Cruising Club USA, and are hosting their first Ocean ‘OPS’ course on September 22-23. The Ocean Preparedness Seminar will be a hands-on weekend learning safety and emergency management specific to ocean sailing. Check them out at jworldannapolis.com.

Do you understand flag etiquette?

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-08-25 05:00

Flag etiquette rules aren’t required as a cruiser, but you should know the basics to avoid embarrassing yourself or offending others. Beyond that is up to you, but there’s a whole language to flags that is interesting to learn. As a fan of flag etiquette.  I like to think I know a few things about flags, but I learned so much from this great infographic that reader John Tissot of the East Freemantle Yacht Club emailed!

Eleven years ago this month, we sailed with a group of fellow Seattle Yacht Club members on an organized cruise. It was our first time clearing into another country, and we were so excited to use our snappy new Canadian courtesy flag when we cleared in at Ganges. Imagine our dismay when a few hours later, a patient sailor pointed out that in our haste, we had hoisted it…upside down. An international sign of distress, although in our case the distress followed the flag instead of vice versa!

Normally, we love flying flags on Totem: courtesy flags are always up as cruisers, we’re proud to fly an ensign, and we enjoy others as well, from burgees to flags of local significance. If we weren’t in such an uninteresting spot at the moment, I’d get a glamor shot of the pretty new American flag now off Totem’s transom. This “Battle Tough” flag look sharp, and will be taking us though some big miles in the next year.

Thank you John for sending this infographic! Take a look, see what you know, and what you can learn. I predict this will spawen sundowner hour quizzes around here later…

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Come FLY with Totem!

Sail Feed - Sat, 2014-08-23 08:41

This week we hit our six year cruisaversary. On August 21, 2008, friends sailed us out of the entrance to Eagle Harbor, Washington, and on our way to adventures afloat. We did not anticipate that we’d be out this long, not knowing at what ages the children might pine for “normal” land lives, how the life would meet our expectations, or we’d string together our finances. With lumps in the road, it still has stuck together, and I am grateful every day to live this life afloat with my family.

To celebrate six years, Jamie pulled a digital track of our travels since departure (and a small party of fellow sailors!). Between changes in technology in general, and in the systems we’ve used to record our travels, this took a bit of doing- but the result gives us a cool lookback as well as something to share.

The overview still kinda makes me say- WOW. We did that? But we did. And in our own time, our own pace, enjoying most of the steps along the way.

Jamie’s also made this into a KML file we can look at in Google earth. Flying in and out of our adventures was a glorious distraction for me this afternoon.

This took took Jamie quite a long time, in great part because it was impossible not to relive great memories as each leg came together.  So he’s annotated with pins to mark stops that stood out, like the time we spent a week seeing and hearing fin whales feed in the channel between Isla Coronado and Baja. It’s the top pin in the shot below.

Then there that look at our miles crossing the Pacific ocean. DANG. That is a lot of water. I dreamed about this.

Want to come fly through our adventures? I’ll post a link to the downloadable file here, and on our Facebook page - that’s the best place for updates, so come along!

—-UPDATE—-

To begin automatically downloading the KMZ file and cruise through our journey via Google Earth, just click here.

 Jazzed up readers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

Garmin SmartMode, and here comes Simrad Bridge

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-22 12:45

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 22, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Garmin’s SmartMode station control seemed like an obviously great idea when introduced with the 8000 Glass Helm series in early 2013. The basic feature simply lets you group 8000 displays at a helm (station) and control what the various screens are showing all at once. But the interface designers went a smart step further by naming the default SmartModes after the overall tasks at hand, instead of the conventional specifics about the tools needed, like “chart/radar/cam”. Thus the 8212 now being tested on Gizmo came with CRUISING, DOCKING, ANCHORING, and FISHING modes already suggested, and I’ve been adding my own in the same task-not-tool spirit…

Another sign of Garmin’s interface smarts is the well-done SmartMode explanatory graphic that pops up when you set up a Station. While station names cannot be customized, there are lots of choices, and note that you can use SmartMode on a single display. In fact, that’s the only way I can test it, as the feature does not extend to the Garmin 741xs also installed on Gizmo. That may change, though, as the smaller MFDs have already been given lots of other network integration abilities. (The 741 is already sharing charts and sonar with the 8212 and I can even save screenshots from the big screen to a card on the small display.)

SmartMode on a single display is quite similar to setting up a regular custom screen on the 8000, but you do get to add a graphic of your choice, and by using SmartMode you’ll have two pages of custom screens available from your Home page. Note that the Functions windows would look more interesting if I hadn’t chosen four Gauge windows…

…but then again my Systems Check smartmode is pretty interesting. I had not realized until I tried this that the Garmin can now display some fairly esoteric data from Gizmo’s NMEA 2000 network, like engine room (actually exterior block) and refrigerator temps coming from a Maretron TMP100. They haven’t yet provided automatic or manual gauge configuration for these values, like they have for the tachometer and a few other common gauges, but let’s hope. I also like those tank level graphics you can add to the data bar. And it’s important to note here that whatever I select for the data bar and/or lower and upper bars, plus each window’s gauge selection, are all saved in this SmartMode.

There may also be screen setup features I’ve missed. It was only yesterday that I realized I could use lowercase letters when naming things even though that upper right arrow — which even glows when in CAPS — now seems quite obvious. Note that Garmin has offered a choice of alphabetical or qwerty touch keyboards for some time.

While I’ve been meaning to explore SmartMode for some time, it certainly came to mind when Simrad announced a similar Bridge Control feature in the recent update to evo2 software. A manual addendum about how to use it (and the other interesting new features) still isn’t available, but I found the Networking/Bridge menu easily and was happy to see that I could use both NSS16 and 7 for testing. What I missed (without a help call) was a new Bridge button somewhere on the Home page that will let me choose any screen presets already on each MFD for a Bridge preset. I hope to try it later today.

I can’t remember if it was Simrad or Raymarine who first came up with a screen editor where you could just touch slide the functions you want onto draft page, but the evo2 version seems perfected. You don’t have to specify how many windows you want; you just add functions until you’re done or the maximum is reached, and then a graphic drop-down lists shows the different ways you can arrange that many windows. Finally, anytime you’re using the screen you can adjust the window splits with a shortcut found on the menu under the power button. Nice!

In the spirit of building on your competitor’s good ideas, check out the spectacular wind gauge page that recently came to both the Garmin 8000 and 7×1 displays in a recent update. Everything you see there is by default, but you can do a fair bit of customization, like which value to chart, right from the menu button. Who would be surprised if Furuno and Raymarine have a feature similar to SmartMode and Bridge Control on their software road maps? But speak up if you want it, because there’s lots of features and improvements still possible. In the meantime, I think that many MFDs will already let us try the idea of naming preset screens for their use; maybe some of you already do?

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Podcast: Brion Toss on the Art of Rope Whippings

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-08-22 00:00

Andy spoke with master rigger Brion Toss from Bermuda several years back about the art and science of a proper rope whipping. It was originally for an article in Yachting World, but we’ve repurposed it into another Essay Friday episode. Brion is set to come on the podcast soon for a full-on interview, but in the meantime, enjoy his philosophy on rope whippings and learn a thing or two this week!

There’s this boat: Mary Powell

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-08-20 07:51

It takes many years of diligent saving and personal sacrifice to afford the boat of your dreams and cruising adventure. Or, you can limit your selection set to what fits into a ready budget, and trade years of anticipation for years of cruising.

That’s what Steve Dolman did. His modest sloop, Mary Powell, was not a candidate for swagging at a boat show or splashing across a magazine cover. But the simple monohull was kinder to the budget, and it meant he could go- soon. We met Steve in Mexico, hung out again in Tonga, and caught up recently once more in Malaysia. What does one man’s perfect cruising boat look like? Steve took the time to answer a few questions for me.

Tell me about Mary Powell.

She’s a Discovery 37, designed by Peter Hatfield and built in 1970 in Richmond, BC. They were built for just a few years by ICL engineering.

How did you find her?

Just by fluke, with a broker in Sidney, BC, looking for an economical blue water cruiser. At the time, I was also looking at C&Cs. Glad that didn’t happen (keels have a habit of falling off!). It had been sitting for three years after death of the owner; kids used it a little, not much, and it hadn’t been maintained. Mostly, it just needed TLC, nothing major. I put $38,888 (Canadian) into the boat.

What were your major upgrades?

I put in a windlass, and HF radio, radar, autopilot. All the other basic essentials were there.

What makes her special to you?

Actually didn’t like her much at first, but it was what I could afford. The choices were to blow the budget on the boat, and go back to work, or buy a cheaper boat and go cruising. She grew on me and by the time I got to Fiji I wasn’t jealous of anyone. The boat is the right size, the right investment, I know her inside and out and know she can just about anything handle anything.

What kind of preparation did you do?

I hit almost every gale in the Georgia Strait that winter to make sure that if anything broke it broke there. If you call mayday you’ll have traffic jam in 15 minutes! Ice pellets at 35 knots make a special sound on a full sail, but a lot of fun.

Tell me what you like most about her.

Her ruggedness. She’s been on rocks and reefs. She’s got a bare lead keel – no fiberglass. Three times it’s happened, and each time we got off unscathed, despite bumping and bouncing. Just a spade rudder, there’s no skeg. And, she’s pretty fast; we keep up with the 42 footers of the world.

What don’t you like about Mary Powell?

All funds and focus have been on hull, rig, and engine, but that’s the stuff that counts. The interior is still very 1970s! Mary Powell could stand everything cosmetically. No change to layout, just make it look a little newer.

Do you know much else about her history?

It was registered in Victoria by the first owner, who had her for nine years; the second owner for twenty seven years, and I’ve had her ever since September 2007.

Mary Powell is a modest boat, but she and Steve have put down a respectable miles. He crossed the Pacific in 2010, then sailed up to Japan and across the North Pacific back to British Columbia. By 2013, he was back down in Mexico and preparing to head out across the Pacific again. It was such a treat to hear from him a few months ago that he was in Bali, and wondering if we’d be able to get together. The cruising world is small, and it’s great when it comes around again.

Sitting on Totem in Langkawi, Malaysia, Steve and I talked longer about what’s next. He’d like to get back to Trinidad, where he was introduced to sailing as a teen and has fond memories from his youth. But after criss-crossing the Pacific a couple of times, he’s hoping to explore Southeast Asia a little longer before continuing west.

Fair winds Steve- I wonder what corner of the world we’ll get to see you in next?

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A New Adventure

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-08-19 16:55

There comes a time in every person’s life when she must ask herself, “do I want to move to Papua New Guinea?”

It isn’t always “Papua New Guinea.” Sometimes it is “a new town.” Or “take a different job.” Or “go back to school.” It just happens to be Papua New Guinea in my case, because that is the way my life seems to work. Like Belle, I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I’ll just never be the one with the big house, the minivan, the soy latte and the lululemons. I’d rather learn Tok Pisin.

Moving aboard was a big DIWTMTPNG moment for me. I had no sailing experience. I had a comfortable life. I had friends and family nearby. Why give all that up? To have an adventure with my husband and kids. To do something new. To experience a different slice of life and travel the world. And when I viewed it in those terms, going cruising changed from being an idea to an opportunity. So, of course, I said yes.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past four years writing about how great cruising is, and how much we all enjoy it. All true. However, two facts have combined into an unstoppable, Voltron-like robot in the lives of the Papillon crew. One: it’s time to earn some money if we want to continue to enjoy luxuries like Lanocote and food. Two: Erik loves his work with a ridiculous passion. It is easier to get barnacles off the prop than to pry him away from an interesting project.

It grieves me to say so, but he has fallen off the sabbatical wagon. Erik walks the razor’s edge between his two loves – his family, and his work. I can’t really complain, because I have won that battle for four years now, and I do enjoy the aforementioned food his work provides. And normally Erik is at least home on the weekends. But the flight connections between New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea aren’t exactly plentiful or convenient. And this has been going on for too long.

Thus, we’ve decided on a new adventure. For the next half year, the four of us will live together in a small village in Papua New Guinea. The kids will attend an international school there and tumble around like puppies with the many, many other youngsters in town. Erik will work. And I’ll write. (Which is also work, but, unless you are very, very lucky, you tend to get paid more in personal satisfaction than in cold, hard cash.)

Where does this leave you, dear reader? Well, I will still be here on Sailing Papillon, telling tales of our adventures. But there won’t be much sailing or Papillon. If you are only here for the cruising stories, then mark your calendar for early April 2015. I’ll be back aboard at that point. If you love me anyway, then stick around. This is a just a brief sabbatical from our sabbatical, and there will still be lots going on.

In the meantime, I’ll set you all some homework.  Keep your eyes open for your own: “do I want to move to Papua New Guinea?” moments. And when they arrive, remember: the answer is always yes.

Gizmo glass bridge MFD testing 2014, specs & prices

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-08-19 16:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 19, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Now we’re talking. Gizmo’s flybridge feels like the starship Enterprise now that the Simrad NSS16 evo2 is installed in its Seaview Power Pod and the Garmin 8212 has been moved closer to the helm since I first discussed the 2014 glass bridge install. Recent visitors tended to break into giddy laughter, but the marine electronics horsepower at my fingertips is truly phenomenal. In this scene, for instance, I’m exploring a dicey area of Camden outer harbor — hence the lack of moorings — using StructureScan and medium CHIRP sonar on the NSS16, CHIRP DownView and sonar on the gS125, and EchoPilot FLS via the Garmin’s video port. Today’s subject, though, is about how and why I selected the particular gear I hope to test and compare for quite a while…

Specifically, is it fair to compare that big Simrad NSS with the Raymarine and Garmin 12-inch models when there is an NSS12 evo2 available? My first rationale was practical as the 16 was supposed to be available a month before the 12. In fact, I didn’t receive the 16 until recently because the initial run purportedly sold out quickly (and a guy trying to borrow one long-term should rightfully go to the bottom of the list). But as I built a spreadsheet of unit specifications, mainly to figure out how to fit all these screens at the helms, I added the suggested retail prices and realized that the NSS16 seemed similar to the Garmin and Raymarine 12-inch models, especially as it includes built-in CHIRP sonar and StructureScan processing (or ForwardScan, when it arrives) plus 10Hz GPS. (I’ve since learned that you can’t run CHIRP and SS at the same time, though both work fine if you put the sonar on a single frequency, and the limitation is in the manual according to a patient Navico tech support guy :-)

But, man, I get nervous discussing prices. They can change overnight (major radar example below); there are all sorts of packages and other discounts, and it’s hard to factor in needed cables, etc. The ultimate cost of ownership should include installation, repairs, durability, and more…and the calculation is rarely consistent owner to owner. Usefulness versus hassle, pleasure versus pain, can vary dramatically with the same gear used on similar boats for similar purposes. It bothers me, for instance, to list the Furuno TZT14 at $7,695 because I know it was subject to a colossal $1,500 rebate for most of this year and that may happen again (the rebate hinges on the exchange rate with Japan, I’m told). The TZT would also seem less expensive if the comparison was by weight, which suggests the extreme durability Furuno is famous for.

At any rate, I hope the dimensions and so forth on my spreadsheet are useful to other boats trying to make decisions, but please treat the price information carefully; there’s a bigger picture. But that said, it does look like the new Simrad NSS line is a good value, though the differences get fairly minor down at the 7-inch screen level. Incidentally, even though these MFDs commonly go by themselves on smaller boats, I think of them as part of the whole do-it-all glass bridge concept because they can also serve as they are in the scene above. They have the same clean touchscreen style, they’re networked every which way, and the tasks they’re taking care of here are typical of a larger boat at anchor. You might want one of these MFDs next to your berth, which is one reason why Raymarine’s huge a- and e-Series model lists are noteworthy.

I did notice a few small ways that Simrad is keeping their manufacturing costs down. If you download the install manual, you’ll see that the only cable included is the power cord — no NMEA 2000 (or SimNet) drops and no proprietary video or Ethernet cables. The dust caps you should put over unused ports are now soft friction-fit type, except for the turn-and-lock one over the HDMI output. But I quibble, and who else offers HDMI output anyway? I guess the concern is if they used some cost-cutting internal part that will cause trouble later, but so far both large and small NSS are performing very well, including what is essentially evo2 software V1. One possible bug I just encountered is corrupted screen shots on the 16, but even if that hindrance is real, I’ll share what I’m finding soon.

One of the last installs I’ll do before heading south is a Garmin 24 xHD radar, and my rationale for borrowing that instead of the 18-inch high performance model –like the other three, though the actual dimensions vary — was the same as with the NSS16. Without a size constraint, a boater could have a Garmin 24 for about what it cost to get the competitor’s smaller radome. But that was a few months ago, before Raymarine cut the price of their RD418HD by about $700 (if my research is correct). So it goes.

The truth is that Garmin’s original 24 HD radome didn’t do well against the 18-inch competition in my 2009 testing, so it will be news if they’ve caught up on features and performance. And that’s what I’m expecting, as one general impression I’m developing while working with all these MFD systems is a nice level of parity. They’re all darn good. And I think they all have the hardware, software, and R&D team horsepower to keep improving existing features and adding new “functions” for some time. I look forward to drilling into the nuances and making comparisons and suggestions, hopefully with your participation.

But marine electronics isn’t all about the Big Four, though possibly more than ever. There are all sorts of sub- and standalone systems that can help us in ways that probably aren’t even on the big boys’ roadmaps yet. And I feel a bit remiss that Gizmo hasn’t met a Humminbird Ion yet, though it’s not quite at “glass bridge” level. But there is a little room and a few unused power and data ports for interesting displays like the Standard Horizon CPN1010i below, whose chartplotting looked good even next to the TZT and which can still do things the others can’t. More to come.


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