Stylish was hard at work on her math when the light mist turned into a pelting rainstorm. She dropped her pencil and looked out of the cockpit. “Mom, it’s raining. Can I go outside and have recess?”
“Sure. Put on a bathing suit first.”
It is a pleasure to say those words again. The bathing suit part, of course. I’ve never been a don’t-get-wet kind of person. But, for so long, going out in the rain meant a pile of gear, drippy wool socks, and demands for hot chocolate at the end of it. Sending the kids out to play in the rain is much more fun when they don’t come back hypothermic.
Stylish collected rain from the awnings in a Tupperware pot. Lacking anyone else to dump her buckets on – her sister was at school – she poured them over her own head. Fifteen minutes later, she was toweled off and back at her math. And life was good.
A fresh drink, straight from the awning.
At eleven o’clock, we walked over to Indy’s school to pick her up for lunch. The kids get a long lunch hour here – an hour and a half – and you only have two choices: a) sign up for the school cantine program, or b) take them home and feed them. You may not send a bagged lunch to school. (Don’t ask me why.) We have signed up for the cantine for the new year, but the program is currently full. That means we have to hike over the hill every day at lunch to get Indy. Unfortunately, the walk is a little too far to go home again, eat, and hoof it back to school in time for the afternoon session. Luckily, there is a lovely park a block away from the school. So, every day, Erik and I take turns on the lunch run, and have a picnic in the park with the girls.
Inevitably, this rainy day was my turn. I had hoped things would ease by lunchtime, but no such luck. Out came the rain pants, rain coats and boots.
When Stylish and I arrived at school, Indy jumped off the “waiting bench” and gave me a hug. She immediately started pulling on the rain gear we had brought.
“How was school this morning?” I asked. “Did you have fun?”
Indy grimaced. “They made us stay inside at recess.”
Stylish gave her a smug smile. “I played in the rain at recess.”
Indy just shook her head in disgust. She could not understand why they had been forced to stay indoors on such a beautiful day. And while I can appreciate that her teacher shouldn’t have to deal with thirty soaking-wet children all day long, I do wish the school didn’t have to resort to indoor recess. It isn’t as though it were 5 C outside, with icy sleet blowing down from the nearest Pole.
We walked down to the park. Usually there are several other families there, eating lunch and playing on the swings. Office workers arrive, alone or in pairs, to eat a croque monsieur and enjoy the mild weather. But today, unsurprisingly, we had the park to ourselves. It was raining so hard that I almost wore my foulies – a white, hooded, waterproof onesie that makes me look like a giant condom. (Out of kindness to my family, I spared them that humiliation in favour of a thigh-length yellow slicker. Not much better, but better all the same.)
The girls immediately ran for the playground equipment. Wearing their rain pants helped the girls shoot a good four feet off the ends of the slides.
Do you think we can make it all the way to the concrete?
We ate lunch under one of the play structures, then it was back to splashing and stomping and sliding until the lunch hour was over.
I dropped Indy off at her classroom, and hung her rain things on a hook.
“Take those home,” she grumped. “I won’t need them here.“
“We’ll let them dry,” I said. “Maybe you can use them on the way home.”
She brightened. “Okay. If it is still raining when I get home, can I go out in my bathing suit?”
I may have outgrown it, but it is still fun to watch.
Written by Ben Ellison on Dec 3, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
While it looks and works very much like the Matrix AIS GX2100 that caused quite a splash here in 2009, Standard Horizon’s just announced Matrix AIS/GPS GX2200 very usefully includes a built-in 66 channel GPS. And it still has the same $400 MAP (minimum advertised price) as the evolved Matrix AIS+ GX2150, which will now get a $350 MAP. Two years ago Standard introduced the Explorer GX1700 — the first fixed VHF with GPS built in, and still the only one (I think) – and while I haven’t tried one myself, I think that front panel satellite antenna bump works pretty well even when installed under a fiberglass deck or top…
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard search and rescue professionals lament about how well DSC VHF distress alerts can work but how few boats are set up to send a proper one. All it takes with almost every VHF already installed is an MMSI number programmed in and a GPS connection, but even yours truly is guilty. The first season I had a Matrix AIS 2150 installed on Gizmo I wired in a Simrad AT10 to feed it GPS from the NMEA 2000 network. That worked fine, so I had AIS plotting (backup), direct DSC to AIS target calling, and a functional DSC distress button. But when I moved the Matrix up to the flying bridge before heading south last fall, I never quite got around to the GPS wiring. The Matrix is a very able VHF radio, and the RAM3 Mic I’ve been using at the lower helm also works well, but a bit of laziness meant that Gizmo’s only working DSC distress button was on the otherwise redundant Garmin VHF 200.
When I first installed the Garmin in 2009, it was the only VHF that could receive GPS over NMEA 2000 and also use that same connection to plot DSC calls and set up AIS target calls (on a Garmin MFD). That didn’t change significantly until the 2012 intro of the Simrad RS35 and Lowrance Link 8, which put both N2K and an AIS receiver into a VHF. Those radios had a rocky entry due to software glitches and still don’t offer AIS target calling, but several recent comments on that same entry were written by satisfied users. I’m hoping that we’ll now also hear from commenters who are using the premium Ray260 modular VHF system, which Raymarine rolled out last summer.
The Ray260 interfaces to GPS and MFDs via SeaTalkNG (aka NMEA 2000) as well as NMEA 0183, and the Ray260 AIS model includes a two channel receiver. There’s no AIS display on the handset, but obviously this black box system is designed for integration with Raymarine screens. I think the remote speakers even match the size and trim of the i70 instruments and pilot heads. Again I don’t see AIS target calling from an MFD, which seems like an oversight (that could be fixed with a software update), but I like that the Ray260 can simultaneously track up to 5 vessels via DSC and can also record 90 seconds of VHF audio you might have missed.
Has anyone out there tried a Ray260? Also of interest would be experience with the Standard Horizon GX1700, which likely has the same GPS performance as the Matrix GX2200 coming out in January.
PS: Thanks to commenter Carsten, I just happily read about the new Icom IC-M506 AIS VHF, which seems to combine just about every feature discussed in this entry, including a NMEA 2000 interface, direct AIS target calling, and even 2 minutes of audio playback. Bear in mind that there is no pricing or ship date yet, and the info is only at Icom UK, but here’s hoping that Icom America is planning a nice early 2014 surprise.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
Living with a lighter footprint is one of our motivating factors to choose the cruising life. Helping our children learn about risks and realities of the global effects of climate change and is connected to this environmental sensibility. A great way to bring these together is to participate in citizen scientist programs, where our nomadic lifestyle can offer unique opportunities to collect data and contribute to active research. Anyone can do this: anyone can share from their experiences to help inform and direct decisions to improve life for all of us on planet earth.
The individual burden of effort is generally very small, but cumulative impact can be tremendous as more citizen scientists on the oceans of the world and in our Salish Sea waterways at home take the time to contribute.
Jellywatch – www.jellywatch.org
box jellyfish floats with garbage- Labuan, Malaysia
There are increasing reports of jellyfish blooms and other disruptions, but little organized data to connect observations and make global inferences. Jellywatch, a project of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s research institute, seeks to improve the body of knowledge by gathering observations from around the world. Their handy app makes it easy to submit a sighting: not just of jellyfish, but of other ocean conditions like algal blooms. We have seen a large number of jellyfish in Southeast Asia the last few months, from the highly toxic box jellies to more benign edible varieties, and are excited to be connected enough in Malaysia to start actively contributing.
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation – www.adventureandscience.org
ASC is dedicated to building partnerships between outdoor enthusiasts and scientists, and will match interested volunteers with an appropriate project. They have projects that are well suited to cruisers, but many for those who are still tied to land as well. On Totem, we’re really excited to be able to contribute to a project on microplastic contamination by gathering water samples along our route. The samples will help scientists to better understand the sources and toxicity, and are helpful to gather from less-traveled waters we sail.
Sea Bird Count – www.facebook.com/birding.aboard
Have you had a feathered visitor or stowaway on a passage? We’ve hosted a few, like the barn swallow sitting on our son Niall’s book in the photograph above. Sharing what, where, and when you see these birds can help. SeaBC seeks to benefit seabird conservation by gathering information from boaters about their ocean-going bird sightings. Surprisingly, this area is considered a frontier science: little is known about breeding and wintering areas for many species, which are often vulnerable or endangered. You don’t need to be a birding expert to log sea bird sightings that can add important information to the base of knowledge. All you need to do is take digital photos of seabirds, record basic data in a downloadable logging form, and report the sightings. Members on the group’s Facebook page offer support to identify and submit sightings and facilitate submission. SeaBC data goes to Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology’s eBird database, where it’s a permanent resource for scientists and conservation efforts worldwide.
Secchi Disk – www.secchidisk.org
Secchi Disk is the world’s biggest plankton survey. These microscopic plants and animals are an essential link in the food chain of the sea and the earth’s ecology, but there’s a lot we don’t actually know about them. By measuring water clarity and uploading the data, you can contribute to a global database of measurements that’s building knowledge about plankton presence in different seasons and different geographies. All you need to participate in this project is a GPS enabled phone or tablet, and a simple measuring device: the Secchi disk. You can buy one online, but they are easily made at home with instructions on the site. You sink the disk, measure the depth at which it is no longer visible, and submit this and a few other bits of information to the database. Plankton may be tiny, but these organisms are critical to the livelihood of other (much larger) species, and they are harbingers of the effect of climate change on the ocean.hawksbill turtle, Tioman Island, Malaysia
Seaturtle.org seeks to organizing the world’s sea turtle information, making it universally accessible and useful. Founded out of a desire to support research and conservation efforts in the sea turtle community, they also offer an easy opportunity for the cruiser to give back and contribute to their database. It’s also a great way to learn about issue facing the turtles, as well as forcing you to get smart about identification (which was not as simple as I first thought!). Collect information on the turtles you see- get a photo if you can- and save the details about your location, and submit it online. Easy!
Written by Ben Ellison on Nov 30, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
This is different! While the new Argonaut A615 Smart Monitor has several of the marine display features the company is known for, it can also serve as a large Android tablet. So with its 360° waterproof enclosure, bonded Tflex transflective LED-backlit LCD, and Quad Core ARM processor you can have fast standalone chart plotting on a 15-inch screen in your cockpit or on your flying bridge using only 20 Watts of 12 or 24 volt DC power. And of course that’s not all…
If the A615 Smart Monitor can reach the Internet with its own WiFi, or via your boat’s WiFi router, you can get real time weather, check e-mail, download more apps, watch Netflix, etc. It also has a DVI and analog video inputs so the screen can alternately display onboard cameras, MFD output, and more. The A615 can be surface mounted, bracket mounted or set up with a more flexible RAM mount; I’d favor the latter as transflective displays are especially sensitive to sunlight angle.
The charting app that comes with the A615 appears to be the worthy Memory-Map, but there are several interesting choices on Android now. Jeppesen’s Plan2Nav offers global C-Map coverage plus ActiveCaptain, for instance, and if you have a current Raymarine MFD or Navico GoFree setup there are free android apps that will make the Smart Monitor a nice second station over WiFi. But note that the A615 does not have touch screen, and I’m not yet sure what Argonaut means by an “All Weather Touch Pad” control. Is that something built onto the monitor or…
Maybe the A615 Smart Monitor comes with Argonaut’s OneTouch waterproof touch pad mouse? I’m sure I can get more details after the weekend, but some boaters who already have exposed monitors might want to know about this touch pad anyway.
Besides, I wanted to put up a weekend entry in the hope that relaxed readers will take a short survey. Actually, it only takes a few minutes, you might get a laugh, and you could also win a famed Panbo long-billed lightweight cap. Plus, you’ll get a chance to deliver anonymous feedback on how Panbo can be improved — don’t hold back! — and/or impress potential advertisers with details of your electronics addiction (or influence over buyers). Please be completely candid, but please do take the 2013 Panbo Reader Survey.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
What kind of field guides should you bring cruising? The question of on board references came from a reader recently. It’s a good one, and it made me think about how we flubbed it and didn’t have enough on board when we cut the docklines. Of course, everyone has different needs: some may not want any at all, and we probably skew above average. Here are the field guides that have earned their shelf space on Totem.
The National Audubon Society’s Guide to Marine Mammals of the World has helped us ID animals from Puget Sound to Malaysia. From understanding the differences between oceanic dolphins and whales, to cataloging our identifications (we add a date and a note on the species information page) with successive sightings, this is one of the most frequently used guides on board.
Collecting shells while beach combing is one of the simple pleasures of the cruising life. It’s not something that interested me previously, but that first season in the Sea of Cortez hooked me forever! Smithsonian Handbooks: Shells is a thorough guide with clear photographs that make identification easy. For accessible information about mollusc life cycles and more, we prefer the classic Golden Guide to Seashells of the World (ours is from the 60s, but there’s much newer edition available). I’m happy to have both.
Despite the alarmist title, Dangerous Marine Animals: That Bite, Sting, Shock, or Are Non-Ediblehas helpful information about less savory sea life you might encounter, and was an early favorite on Totem. Our son borrowed it from his friend on another boat, fascinated by all the ways the ocean could kill you. Thankfully, it did not daunt his fascination with the sea: he was engrossed, and we all learned from it.
In Mexico, The Baja Catch is aimed at trailer-boaters or campers, but hands down the best guide we found for fishing in Mexico. It details locations along Baja, but the species information and tips are relevant all along Mexico’s Pacific coast. It’s harder to find (well, harder to find affordably) but worth stalking. Sport Fish of the Pacific(Vic Dunaway) finally answered the question almost every other fish guide seemed to neglect: “but how good is it to eat?” Thank you, Vic, for the quick reference to help decide if a catch is a keeper, or a quick release! A copy of Goodson’s Fishes of the Pacific Coast picked up opportunistically at a swap meet turned out to have some of the best readable information about Pacific fish. With a coverage area from Alaska to Peru and the Galapagos, it doesn’t try to cover every species you might see, but it does an excellent job of describing behaviors and distinguishing characteristics- something I find really interesting. It’s nice to get beyond the pretty pictures and identification to learn more about what we’re seeing underwater.
Birds Peter Harrison’s Seabirds of the World is a great reference that’s helped us ID many of our sightings. While regionally specific guides for are best, the limitation to sea birds keeps this global guide useful- we can almost always make an identification.Just like fish guides, non-seabird bird guides really should be sourced by region. It was incredibly disappointing to realize in the USA that when most field guides described themselves as “North American”, they invariably meant “USA and Canada, and only cursory coverage of Mexico based on migratory patterns.” Ugh. That didn’t help the coming year and a half we were going to spend based in Mexico very much! We ended up with Princeton Guide of Birds of Mexico and Central America, and found it more helpful than any of the “North American” guides.
I was surprised to find very few birds in the Pacific islands. Somehow I had the impression that they’d be rich with bird life: it just wasn’t like that, unfortunately. We only rarely had occasion to even wish for a guide. That all changed once we reached Australia: there, PNG, and now Southeast Asia have rich and colorful bird life. I really wish we’d picked up Birds of Southeast Asia (Princeton Field Guides) before we left Australia.Other critters
When we reached Australia, friends who were ending their cruising days gifted us with a couple of field guides from their on-board library. We’ve gotten a lot of use out of the Smithsonian Handbooks Reptiles and Amphibians and another Smithsonian Guide, Insects- Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods has been similarly helpful. Maybe I was in denial about the number of creepy crawly and reptilian things we’d have the opportunity to identify (because, ew!) but it turns out… well, it turns out we do have plenty of those opportunities along our path through the tropical Pacific and into Southeast Asia, and now Mama knows just how poisonous some of them are. Jungle hike anyone? Landscape
Sourcing guides for regional fauna has been much simpler than guides for landscape and flora. It’s a gap (I’d love to hear any recommendations!). In general this is covered in regional guides, but often not very well: it’s simply easier to find commentary in a country guide about the flora than a book on the subject intended for the casual visitor.
Every time we looked at the stunning geography of Baja, I wished we had a geologist on board! This has been a recurring theme ever since. Lacking a geologist in our crew, we brought a copy of Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Rocks and Minerals after our first year in Mexico. It helps, but a basic geology book would still be a good addition. The forms around us are sometimes so striking, they beg to be explained, yet we don’t always have the information available- and you can’t just “google it” from the middle of nowhere.
Our first year in Mexico, we really missed having good field guides. Somehow I manage to be continually late at getting the right books on board, but I’m getting better. Our global library grows over time, and we’ve shared regional books with those that followed us. Hopefully this helps others be more prepared than we were!
The links in this post to Amazon listings for each book include a referral from Totem. If you click through a link and subsequently make a purchase from Amazon, it throws a little change in our cruising kitty. Thank you for taking this into consideration, and helping to keep our family cruising!
This one was written by hand on November 18. This was my first chance to get it published on the blog…
Mia and my dad are sleeping. A rain squall just blew in from over the hills. I was sitting at the nav. table reading TIME magazine and sipping on my second glass of savignon blanc. I felt something itching on my calf. It took me two moments to realize it was drizzle. Rain!
It came down just enough to cause me to close the hatches and bring in the cushion cover we’d been drying on the lifelines. And my t-shirt. The rain soaked the boat just enough to remove the salt. And that was enough.
Well that was a lousy night. It started well enough. After the morning packing up the last of the C1500 stuff from Nanny Cay and saying our last goodbyes to the few folks still around – namely Paul & Monica and Jim from Moonshadow - we moved onto Sojourner to begin the two-week sail south to St. Lucia.
At the fuel dock I was complimented by one of the Salty Dawg Rally crew on my boat-handling skills coming alongside to fill up. I said ‘thanks.’ What I wanted to say was, ‘I’m an effing good boat driver, Mister. There’s a reason you know.’ I only thought that though. I was a better boat driver than diesel attendant.
‘How much do you expect we’ll take?’ I asked my Dad. He was going to wander down to the chandlery to get a few last-minute items while Mia and I refuled.
‘I’d guess probably 35 gallons or so,’ he replied.
Okay. Now the nozzle was fast. But not that fast. Five gallons in and the vent was overflowing. Into the cockpit. Six gallons in and the fill hose was gurgled over.
Don, the guy who’d complemented me on my maneuvering skills, was not distracting me by conversing on subjects I was actually interested in. I lost focus, and 1/2 a gallon of diesel ended up in the cockpit.
Basically, Dad had screwed up. He’d estimated that they’d used up nearly 50 gallons of fuel during the passage south. Including the 15 they dumped into the tank from the jerry cans, plus the six I added, they’d only used 21. Nice math.
Mia hosed out the cockpit, Dad returned and we were off. First stop, Road Town, for customs clearance and smoothies. Next stop – Ile Fourche and the Caribbean Mia and I had come to love during Broadreach.
Sojourner sailed out of the Virgin Islands as the full moon rose in the east behind a bank of clouds. The island to port had vertical striations of rock piled up (apparently) by millennia of tectonic plate movement on the sea floor. To starboard, a boat was wrecked on Ginger Island. Then, we were offshore.
I took the first watch, 6-9pm. The moon rising behind the clouds illuminated their edges and the horizon in that magical glow. I anticipated a wonderful evenings sail – just enough breeze to make hull speed on a close reach under full sail and keep the decks dry.
Typically I’ll make coffee and get my book on a night watch. I hate steering – that’s why God invented autopilots. On this night I skipped the coffee and the book and just watched the evening.
The moon got higher and brighter off the port bow. Venus was dazzling in the West, though starting to fade over the horizon.
I did get my book after a while. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness, an intellectually compelling read, something that’s been missing from my life lately.
Then it got windy. As my 3 hours neared the end, I thought that Mia would appreciate if I reefed down before she came up. She’d be comfortable and I’d sleep better. I called my Dad. By then it was very windy. We knew they had chafed through the jib furling line on the way south – the drum wasn’t aligned properly and we hadn’t fixed it in Nanny Cay, expecting a light wind passage overnight.
I scurried to the foredeck to attached another block to change the lead on the furling line, and we took in half the genoa. Then I took two reefs in the mainsail. The night had begun in earnest.
To keep a long story short, this continued throughout our ‘pleasant’ evening. We sailed 75 of the 95 miles to St. Barts under double-reefed main and half the genoa, close-reaching in windy, squally and lumpy conditions. Mia was hopelessly seasick. She managed to hand-steer her first 3-hour watch (which she took the authority to shorten to 2-hours), and finished that soaked and sick. She spent the next 12 hours in the cockpit, covered with a towel and vomiting every hour or so while my Dad and I traded 3-on 3-off.
Water cascaded into the companionway. Dad had warned me this had happened on the way south, but I didn’t take him seriously enough. I awoke at one point sleeping on the starboard (low) settee – to the feeling that someone had dumped a glass of saltwater on my face. The galley was flooded. I moved to the high side to sleep. The lee side was drenched.
So it was that we spent the better part of today cleaning salt off every surface inside Sojourner. The cushion covers were removed to soak in fresh water and hang out to dry. Mia and I swam a few times to beat the heat. I organized the nav. table. We had coffee and hurricane eggs for breakfast. Mia was cured when we reached flat water at Ile Fourche.
Now they nap. I write. And drink wine. And listen to the Smashing Pumpkins.
Celebrating Thanksgiving on Totem this week, we sat around the table to talk about all the things we’re grateful for. Earlier in the day, the children had each made a list to share- going around the table, there were many overlaps.
We’re all so thankful for our floating home. Totem might be cozy living, but it’s more than enough. It keeps the water out, and the love in.
I’m thankful that we’ve kept the spirit of our holidays. The cruising life lends itself to a more distilled, less commercial celebration.
That also makes me thankful I have yet to hear a Christmas carol this year. I don’t miss the consumer crush around holidays back in the states. Mairen added that she’s not thankful for skipping holidays, and reminded me it’s Hanukkah this week, so…well, I guess we’ll do some more celebrating soon.lighting a menorah with friends in La Cruz, 2011
Siobhan says she’s thankful for apple pie. This was probably prompted by one in the oven on Thanksgiving afternoon. Pumpkins are actually easy to get around here, and as a result we’ve had quite a few pumpkin pies in the last month- it lost the “special for Thanksgiving” edge, so apple pie it was.
I’m thankful we can still create the essence of the feast-centered holiday, even if it looks a little different. Although I am now accustomed to buying poultry with the head and feet still attached, did not count on our Thanksgiving turkey chicken from the market requiring gutting at home. We also had cranberry sauce (last stashed jar, purchased before we left Australia), cornbread, gravy for the bird, and I made my grandmother’s candied sweet potatoes- following the recipe written in her hand, a collection of favorites she wrote and gifted when Jamie and I got married.no turkeys, but plenty of chicken at the weekly market
Mairen brought it up a level said she’s thankful for food. We are so fortunate not to go wanting. We eat simply, but we eat, and they’ve seen the harsh reality of malnutrition along our travels.
We’re thankful for the sea. Siobhan was the first one to read this from her list, but it came up repeatedly. The incredible oceans that we cherish, respect, enjoy, and despair.lungs of the earth
The children all said they were thankful for dogs. I guess we’re dog people.Siobhan loving up one of the shipyard dogs in Satun
Niall said he’s thankful for the universe, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. Can’t argue with that!
I’m thankful for our family: family born to, family created, family chosen- from old friends to cruising comrades. We are so very rich with people to love, and be loved by in return.
As we wound down our discussion on gratitude, and the many things we’re thankful for, Jamie called out the most obvious one. It was so plain none of us had thought to articulate it, but immediately rallied around. We are so thankful to be cruising: to have the opportunity to live differently and follow our dreams.Happy Thanksgiving, from Totem!
“So, what did you do at school today?”
I know better than to ask this question. There isn’t a child alive who has ever replied with actual facts when their mother asks about school. But it was Indy’s first day at her new école in Noumea, and I was hoping that she would throw me a crumb. After all, she is a boat kid; she might not realize that it is her duty as a child is to withhold school-related news at all costs.
“Nothing,” she said.
Darn. Someone must have tipped her off.
“Le poisson, le poisson, le poisson,” sang Indy as she skipped along the path.
I raised my eyebrows. She picked up a word already! We had been a little concerned that Indy would find the first few weeks of school difficult, being an anglophone in a francophone world, but she emerged from class unfazed by any communication difficulties she might have encountered.
“Le poisson,” I repeated. “Fish. That’s a good word.”
She stopped skipping. “No, Mom. Not like that. You draw it out. Le poiiiisssssson.” She slowly drew her hands apart.
“Le poisson,” I said again.
She shook her head and resumed skipping. Six hours of school, and Indy’s French was already better than mine. Whose idea was it to send this kid to school, anyway?
Now that we are here for the season, it is time to put down roots. Our days of tootling off to nearby islands and swimming with dugongs have become a “jam tomorrow, jam yesterday” endeavor. This season, we are a family with a purpose: to learn French. Only Erik is off the hook because, like the goody-two-shoes he is, he learned French back in school when he was supposed to, and then went one step further and actually solidified his skills by using the rotten stuff during his working life. It makes me sick to think of him reaping the benefits of being such a dedicated keener.
Because I, of course, did not learn French when I should have. I took it in school. I even, for one golden year, had an exceptional teacher. But for reasons murky at this distance, I decided early I was bad at French. Inevitably, that opinion ensured that I was, indeed, bad at French. And by the time I decided I didn’t really want to be bad at French any longer, I had too big a mountain to climb to fix the problem before my formal education ended.
We all like crepes. Does that give us francophone points?
But, hey, who needs foreign languages anyway? Not me. It isn’t as though I moved to Germany when Erik got transferred there. Or lived in Montreal for a year. Or spent ages in Central America. Or French Polynesia. Yes, drop third period Spanish as soon as you can, kids. Trust me: your future won’t contain any surprises and you will never need it. Oh, wait a minute…
I thought I was mentally prepared to start classes here. After all, I’ve been down this road before auf Deutsch. It took moving to Germany and living day after day in a bubble of incomprehension to really destroy my innate reluctance to speak if I couldn’t do it perfectly. Learning a language is all about trying and being wrong and wrong and wrong until finally you are right.
My German class was in the heart of Frankfurt’s red light district, so learning French in a well-lit whitewashed basement already felt like a step up. No more tripping over junkies crouched behind the dumpsters for this étudiante! But I’ve been attending classes in Noumea for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say it is getting me down.
I am so mad at myself for not doing this when it would have been relatively easy, ie. before my aged and sclerotic mental processes slowed my mastery of new concepts down to a crawl. I know there is no point in blaming Young Amy for dropping the ball. I managed to do a lot of things right back in high school – at least I didn’t decide I was bad at Math or Science. But I still long to throw off a poisson the way Indy does. The best I can hope for now is for classroom topics to ring a distant bell, and for lessons long forgotten to slowly rise to the surface. (Often, these memories are accompanied by a mental echo of: “a lemon peel floating down the Thames has a better grasp of basic grammar!”, and I feel like I am back in high school again.)
My self-loathing isn’t helped by the fact that I am, by far, the most advantaged person in my French course. We are all foreigners, but, of the six of us, I am the only person who is a native speaker of a Latin script language. So not only do my colleagues speak much better French than I do, but they have learned to read an entirely new character set to get there. And there is one woman present who has never been to school. Ever, at all. And while she speaks French, she is now grabbing the chance, in her adulthood, to learn to read and write. I am humbled by these women.
Today, our teacher asked for a volunteer to take down dictation on the board. I was suddenly sixteen again, hating this sort of exercise when Mr B would read to us, and I would write down a phonetic jumble of junk words on my page, wondering why none of it made sense. This class was no different. The typical shifty eyes began. Papers were shuffled, bags were riffled without purpose. No one met the teacher’s eye.
And then the woman who wants to read and write stood up, walked to the board, picked up a whiteboard marker, and waited.
I’m not sure I can adequately convey the shame that washed over me in that moment. I really was sixteen again, weaseling out of a difficult exercise because I knew I’d make mistakes. As though this were about a grade instead of learning.
I have a limited French vocabulary, and my grammar is worse. My pronunciation is so bad that my five-year-old anglophone daughter can call me out on it. But maybe, if I listen to Indy, and my teacher, and my classmates, and everyone else in this town, maybe I’ll actually learn something this time. I might still be bad at it. But, this time, I’m going to be smart enough to let myself try.
I’m not sure what to make of this, but it sure is fun to look at. Click through to this Ocean Surface Currents Map website, and you’ll see this image is actually animated. It just covers areas around the United States, but still gives you a very good idea of just how dynamic the ocean really is.
Off the East and Gulf Coasts anyway. What most surprised me is how little current action there is off the West Coast.
The big question, of course, is whether it’s useful or not, and I’m not sure it is. The map on its face purports to be a real-time forecast of what’s actually going on out there, but when I compare it to official forecasts there seems to be little correlation.
For example, here’s a close-up showing current contours between New England and Bermuda for 0600 hrs on November 22, the day I first stumbled across the site:
You see there’s a nice fat meander in the Gulf Stream, and if you were sailing from Newport to Bermuda you’d want to be very sure you caught a ride on its southbound side.
Compare this, however, to the current forecast from the Ocean Prediction Center for the same time and date, and you see no sign of that huge meander:
These current contours normally don’t change very rapidly, so I should think the two forecasts, if at all accurate, should look fairly similar.
I checked this morning and compared images from the two sources for 0900 hours today, and again they seem to have little to do with each other:
I shot off an e-mail last week to the guys who created the site, but so far they haven’t deigned to respond. My guess is this is still in beta mode, so I wouldn’t use it for passage planning. Hopefully it may become more useful in the future.
Our watermaker is broken, so there are routine shore runs to fill up a jerry can and keep our tanks from running dry. We have a single five-gallon capacity jerry: wwhen it’s full, it’s too heavy for me, so Jamie bears the brunt of the burden. At least potable water that’s readily available from the dinghy dock for the Telaga Harbour Marina, and only a couple of minutes to jet in from the anchorage for another load.
The daily squalls are mostly over, but rainy weather still comes. The seasons here are not so much “rainy” and “dry” as “rainy” and “slightly less rainy.” It’s rarely similar to the spitty Pacific Northwest misty sprinkle. Bucketing down in fat drops is more like it: sometimes we can barely see Love Song, anchored just a few boat lengths away.
It puts a damper on beach time, but it’s great for water collection. Every bit we can catch cuts down on the jerry can runs. We have a very simple system, simply running a line alongside the toe rail as a barrier to channel water, then ringing the end of the line around the deck fills about amidships. When it’s time to initiate, Jamie yells out: “CATERPILLAR DRIVE!” and we all know what to do.
Our system is highly imperfect: the watermaker made it less important to invest time in a better setup. It’s sufficient, though, and we get by for now. When there’s a good daily dump, we can keep our tanks topped off.
We were rich with excellent company for the weeks in Telaga. It was early 2009 the last time we saw our friends on Love Song, but intervening years can simply melt away in cruising friendships. Reunions like these are a happy counterbalance to remember every time we have another goodbye. But for all the goodbyes, there were so many more hellos this time around, and so many great new friends to make.
The big surprise was that these new friends were overwhelmingly American: we haven’t seen so many American boats in a very long time! For all that nationality really doesn’t matter a whit in the scheme of things, it’s still nice to be surrounded by familiar accents, and people with the same context, especially when it’s been a while. There was Cashmere, who we traded messages with many months ago, hoping to intersect “somewhere.” Water Musick hails from our home state, as does Kalalau. Then, just before we were due to leave for Thailand, Utopia returned. More good times and memories to stash. (Notice how these families are all referenced by their boat names? That’s how it works, so choose yours wisely!)
it’s not all beach bonfires: tapas and sangria night!
We checked in at the marina office every few days, looking for packages delivered there but bound for boats in Phuket. Almost every marina seems to have a bulletin board like this, with everything from crew positions sought to boat parts (and even boats) for sale, next to tidier harbour information like tide tables or a published weather forecast.
The marina was also a great source of car rentals, as the staff rent their personal vehicles for RM 10 (about $3) an hour. Perfect for a grocery run! How you’re going to transport the pounds of food a family needs every day is not something that requires any thoughtful planning before cruising. There’s a store not far from your home, and you drive there. Maybe weekly, but if you forget something essential, hey, no problem! Just pop out for a few minutes. It’s a little more complicated when stores are dispersed, you don’t have that car any more, and there’s no public transportation.
In addition to the bargain rentals from the marina office, there are some enterprising folks who rent a car for around RM 50 for 24 hours. We made full use of the novelty of car access to find what we needed. One store had the paint. Another had fittings. Yet another had the gloves and protective suit to wear for applying anti-fouling.buying solar panels and batteries through the back door
Stores are spread out around Langkawi, and finding what you need is typically a scavenger hunt that requires visiting several, but it’s still a great place to find everything from quinoa to anti-fouling paint. Jamie sourced materials we’d need for our coming haulout from around the island so we could leave as few factors as possible to chance and mother nature, and get the work done on time.
We had fun, too.morning trip to the top of Langkawi’s tallest peak going to…a movie theater? in a car?!
Totem’s haulout date in Thailand loomed, and our last days in Langkawi focused on getting prepared. We try hard to avoid schedules, but they happen. In this case, we can’t be more than about a week of out water, or we’ll be late getting to Phuket to pick up our friend Dan!
The problem is not what I see, or even what I don’t see. It’s what I know I could be seeing. These dead and dying reefs are a far cry from the riotous colors and abundant fish of other, healthier reefs I’ve seen in the past. Bob likes to talk about ‘shifting baselines’ and how we can collectively lose track of what a healthy reef once meant. He has a favorite anecdote, about diving in the Dominican Replublic in the company of a boatload of KLM stewardesses on their first dive. Bob came up stunned by the most degraded reef he had ever seen. The stewardesses came up in awe at the sight of such undersea beauty. That is Anguilla and Antigua. It has been wonderful to spend time on reefs again, to dive down and catch blennies peering out of their holes or damselfish protecting their tiny algae farms. But more than anything these sights worry me, leave me wondering if there is any future for coral reefs in the Caribbean. Yes, these are only two islands, and I know there are still places with healthier reefs, but I also know that this is a growing trend. Looking at these grey reefs, drained of life, it’s hard to do more than mourn the loss of these once flourishing ecosystems. On a healthier reef this colorful trumpetfish would have effective camouflage. In this muted scene he is an easy target
Written by Kees Verruijt on Nov 26, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
The Marine Equipment Trade Show 2013 held in Amsterdam last week lived up to its reputation again. The trade floors were packed with exhibitors, and I was told that the booths were packed with visitors on the first two show days. Fortunately, it wasn’t as busy during my third day visit and I could move around easily — if not as anonymously as before; at Garmin I was welcomed as “Hey, you’re the guy from Panbo!” Ben has already reported on Garmin’s down- and side scanning sonar, xHD radomes, etc., plus the new Simrad NSS and B&G Zeus2 Series, but I got to see the new products in action and there was much more to cover, like that neat Glomex WebBoat WiFi/3G access point seen above…
To start off with the Glomex product — although it looks like a satellite antenna, it actually holds a small router (just visible in top image, with the antennas attached to it) and an access point in order to grab internet over WiFi or 3G. It creates an on-board wired and wireless network, and uses those radar-reflector-shaped long distance WiFi antennas to connect to any shore access point, or failing that to a shore 3G tower. It’s only 300 mm (12-inches) high, weighs just 500g (1.1 pound), and only requires DC power to function. If you have a metal (or carbon) boat you can remove the access point from the device and place that inside, linked by an Ethernet LAN cable. For more information read this brochure PDF: glomex_webboat.pdf
We’v covered devices like these in the past on Panbo. Dan wrote about the Novatel 4G-to-wifi hotspot and Ben has repeatedly written about the Rogue Wave Wifi bridges and there is the Locomarine Yacht Router solution, but I like this one’s simple all-in-one aspect, which will make it easy to install. As usual with Glomex it will not be very expensive either. Expect this on the market in 2014.
Garmin’s 2014 mega wave of new kit looked ready to roll. The demo models worked fluently and seemed ready for production (and I got to play with everything that I wanted as I received the grand tour).
Obviously for Garmin the biggest upgrade in terms of sales potential is the fishing market that they can now address with SideVü and DownVü. The technology is akin to what HumminBird and Lowrance came out with years ago, but slightly different. Whether this is an attempt to avoid a patent war or that there is a real technological advantage remains to be seen. I’m sure we’ll hear lots of reports of people fishing with the new equipment once it is released (plan: February, 2014.)
As to Garmin Marketing being infatuated with using ü in product names, I am not sure they realise that in German (where I assume the Umlaut was borrowed from) Vü is NOT pronounced like the english ‘View’ but like ‘Vuuuu’? It certainly sounds silly to me. But then I don’t like weird capitalisation (like iPhone) either, so maybe I’m seeing it all wrong.
New Garmin medium-size chartplotters will all support Garmine Marine Networking, meaning that they can share sonar, radar, maps etc. Witness the single ethernet port on the new GPSmap 800 series. I’m not 100% sure whether a software update for the existing 700 Series will add more networking functionality, but it was very strongly suggested (and I think they have to in order to compete with Raymarine’s policy of full networking on all MFDs, even the low-end ‘a’ Series.) Watch this space!
When I saw the pictures of the new Garmin radar scanners I thought the top ridges were there just for styling reasons, but apparently they are there because they actually help clean up the radar picture by reducing side lobe emissions, which makes for a clearer picture. Garmin claims that the new generation is mightily improved. I guess that Ben may have to do some more radar testing in 2014.
The final thing that I want to mention with Garmin is how their User Interface philosophy “the power of simple” is seen in the new Fusion-built Meteor media box. I am used to the Navico SonicHub, which shows up as an “audio bar” at the bottom of the screen showing the currently playing source, title and volume. In the version of the Garmin interface that I was shown at METS the screen only shows a “Media” button that you need to press to get access to the media controls, but once you do you get a simple screen that is easy to understand. This is different from the screens showing at Fusion’s how-garmin-uses-fusion-link page. The button approach that I saw is the easiest to understand and control, but it does limit the amount of data on-screen at the same time and requires you to take action for some actions that are just a glance on other brands. I guess that you could call both approaches user-friendly — just that what is friendly for one person is not what it is for somebody else. Maybe Garmin will offer a media bar option on the bigger plotters only, or maybe it is going to be a configurable option. Time will tell.
The new NSS evo2 chart plotters were on show side-by-side with the new NSO evo2 and big touch screens. The styling of these is identical, making a “glass bridge” that consists of both NSS and NSO screens look coordinated. Simrad is still on a roll and fine-tuning the look and feel. Evo2 is a gradual upgrade from NSS. I did get the feeling that they see strong demand for touch, and that NSS evo2 will not only be the replacement for NSS but also for NSE, although NSE will still be available for those who want it.
As to the multi-touch functionality I tried to see what worked. Pinch-to-zoom worked as expected, but they also use some commands seen in Windows 8 and the latest Android and iOS devices like swipe-from-edge. If I swiped in from the top the autopilot control window popped up in the same spot as it used to live on NSE/NSS, which is exactly what I expected it to do. Although this sounds like a small thing, such easy-to-remember gestures do make products much easier to use. Even last week I had to explain to a delivery crew that you could take AP control from another station without going to Standby on a NSE by doing a long press of the Standby/Auto button — which apparently is not intuitive.
I must say that I am impressed in how Navico is using its three brand strategy and in particular how they provide Lowrance HDS and Simrad NSS with alternating releases which incrementally bring out new functionality. Speaking of software, there will be a software update for NSS evo2 and HDS G2(T) planned for Q1 2014 that will include, amongst others, FusionLink support. Navico, if you are listening: now that there is no real price difference between the brands and a clear marketing strategy (Sport/Sail/Fish) can we please have auto-pilot control on HDS 2 Touch? Thanks!
Although Simrad NSS evo2 and B&G Zeus2 will probably sell more, I still think that the real star of the Navico show was the new B&G H5000 range of sailing instruments (like the new 5-inch Graphic Display above). I think they deserve their own entry here on Panbo, coming soon.
Four more things caught my attention.
First up: the increased numbers of suppliers for big boat items such as roll stabilisers and huge satellite dishes — witness the overall DAME award for Sleipner (aka Side-Power) vector fin stabilisers. Apparently there is a (perceived) large market for this.
Secondly, the continued increase in electronics suppliers from Asia. One example I noticed this year is South Korea’s Samyung ENC, which produces a complete range of marine electronics: chart plotters, tablet apps, radar, autopilots, AIS, etc. There’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, and it looks as if they are not particularly targeting end users outside their own territory yet, but once they do they might offer some price bargains.
I also had an interesting conversation with Alltek Marine (AMEC) again. They have come a long way in three years, and now produce fully approved AIS class A and B transceivers for a lower price than the mainly european competition. I’m seeing these available at various retailers in Europe and the USA starting at $400.
The big surprise from Alltek is that they are working on a FMCW radar — e.g. competition to Navico’s Broadband radar. They are still in the prototype phase, but were very open about that and clearly soliciting input. When I said that there might be a market for PC based radar if they just produce the API for how to talk to their radar the engineer told me they were thinking of something even more disruptive: making their radar compatible with chart plotters from (for example) Furuno, Raymarine, and Garmin. That way they could offer a real alternative for users who would like to have the benefits of a FMCW radar. Gutsy move if they bring this to market.
Thirdly, although there were even more suppliers of Lithium batteries than last year, it looks as if the initial buzz around them has subsided. From what I hear in the market it looks as if most owners and builders are taking a wait-and-see approach to see how this new technology works in practice. Like distributed power, there is an advantage to the new technology, but at a higher cost and some risk, in particular when pooling larger battery banks. I would want a fully integrated system. Mastervolt seems to be the leader in this area at the moment, and they’ve clearly learned a lot. Their 2nd generation batteries are much easier to install than the 1st gen and are more robust that others on the market. Still at an eye watering price though.
Fourth is the slow but continuous rise of pure electric propulsion. You can tell from the solutions that are available that the most viable market is for motorboats in areas where there are strict environmental controls, and for day sailors that only require an auxiliary engine. This year I saw the first larger engines on actual display that are able to replace a 50 or 100 kW diesel or petrol engine. The most impressive, I thought, was the Torqeedo Deep Blue outboard engine system (pictured below) that won last year’s DAME award. It’s quite a BIG engine in real life I must say! It is obvious that hybrid or pure electric solutions are slowly chipping away at the total dominance of oil powered engines. Until the battery situation is fixed this will remain a solution for particular niches though.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
The schooner America was launched in 1851, and is best known for winning- and giving her name- to the challenge we all know as The America’s Cup. It’s arguably among the most famous schooners ever built.
Pulling into Telaga Harbour, Malaysia, felt a little like entering a time warp. The craggy ridge covered in jungle greens soaring above the bay felt like nothing so much coming into the Marquesas in some distant past. Fuzz your eyes a little to blur the modern boats anchored in the bay, and among the dozen or so vessels scattered through, a beautiful schooner dwarfs the fleet. This boat, Coracle, turns out to be a 2:3 scale replica of the America.
That’s just the beginning of what makes this boat remarkable. Built from bamboo, her owner Dirk Schelling believes she’s the only bamboo-planked schooner in the world.
Coracle is the most recent boat he has built, and she’s the counterpoint to one prior- a 51’ modern cruising boat. He began building after extensive research and thinking about the right boat to comfortably hold his family of five and enable off-the-grid cruising. Being told over and over that “it can’t be done” only convinced him to find out how it could be done. Built upside down on frames, Coracle is strip planked with bamboo over eight structural bulkheads. The bamboo is isolated in a sandwich of fiberglass and epoxy, to prevent water incursion.
Why bamboo? While he’s not out to prove anything, Dirk appreciated the sustainable aspect of this readily renewable resource. In addition to the environmentally friendly aspect of bamboo, it was highly efficient compared to the ‘traditional material- western red cedar- not to mention, dramatically lighter.
Dirk, his wife Michele, and daughters Nicole, Simone, and Brie hail from South Africa. Since launching Coracle in 2011, they’ve been an open ended cruising itinerary. Nicole and Simone were my jogging companions, along with Kathy from Love Song, for many mornings in the harbor. These accomplished women are the “boat guys” in the harbor, with everything from on board skills, to bottom cleaning work, to, well, who doesn’t have a 100 ton captain’s license? (Oh, right, ALMOST ALL OF US).
What’s next for the Coracle crew? Who knows! Which way does the wind blow today? Dirk thinks the boat would make an excellent training vessel (I have to agree, and it definitely comes with the crew quarters to facilitate a team or students). As much as he loves Coracle, he feels the pang to build something else. Then again, there’s the cruising siren call to keep going: we traded notes on points farther east, and shared inforamtion to help them plan a possible move to Papua New Guinea.
I can’t wait to see what happens, and mostly hope it means a path that converges with ours again someday.
For additional information on Coracle’s back story, videos, and more: see their website, www.bambooschooner.com.
Over the past few months, I have sent a lot of emails with a line that looked like this: “Our current and almost definite plan is to head to Tasmania for cyclone season. We’ll check in at Newcastle or Sydney, and wait for the weather to be right early in January to make the last hop to Hobart.”
Now, because you have been paying attention, you know that cruisers are totally unreliable when it comes to reporting their own plans. And so it was with us. Erik and I were 98% sure we were going to Tas. We were keen on Tas. We had heard nothing but great things about the place: not many boats make the trip down, the cruising is spectacular, the people are great. They understand cruisers there, which has not always been our experience in Australia. In short, it sounded perfect.
But we’re not in Tasmania. We’re not even in Australia. We are still in Noumea, with a cyclone-secure berth waiting at the marina and the kids enrolled in school. What happened? In a phrase, the cruising life happened.
We had three reasonable options as cyclone season approached: Tasmania, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. Looking at the map at the head of this post, you can see that it is about 1700 NM to Hobart from here. That isn’t the end of the world; we like long passages. About a thousand miles to Sydney, then pop south when the time comes. But it isn’t 1700 NM of bobbing along the Equator; it is 1700 NM through the Tasman Sea (no joke) and the Bass Strait (even worse.) Papillon is in good shape, but we don’t trust the motor right now. Until we pull and replace that manky thrust bearing, we don’t want to run the engine more than we have to. The local specialists won’t have time until the new year, so a quick fix is out. Even though we almost never use the engine on passage, we would be fools to knowingly enter an iffy situation in the Tasman with less-than-trustworthy engine power. Distance and conditions were a big strike against Tasmania.
What about option #2: Whangarei, the Sequel? We know the town, the people, the yard, and like them all. It is only 900 NM. But again, the Tasman. You still have to get from here to there, and you are sure to encounter at least one bit of weather. Shorter than Australia, but still dumb with the engine issue. And since we are already here: advantage – Noumea.
While we were debating our repair needs, work happened. And for once, I don’t mean: “we fixed a bunch of stuff.” I mean the “we want to pay you money to do things for us,” kind of work. Money is always welcome around here, because – duh – boat parts. It is possible that Erik will work for a few months in the new year, which begs the question: why sail all the way to Tasmania only to sit in one spot for months on end while Erik is away working, then have to fight our way north again when he is done? That’s a lot of sailing for little benefit. Ditto Whangarei. I’ve spent enough months in the cold, cold rain for a little while, thank you anyway. If we are going to put down roots for a few months, why not be somewhere we can still swim? And learn French? We were lucky enough to get a spot at the marina for cyclone season (and they have their cyclone procedures down), so the boat will be safe. A quick check of our insurance policy showed it was okay from that angle. And there we were: Noumea for the win.
An extraordinary volume of paperwork later, here we are, a family with a mission. This season we are going to correct one of our great failures as parents, and will finally teach the girls a second language. Indy started school on Thursday, and has already begun correcting my pronunciation.Off to school, and loving every minute of it.
I started classes, too, and am doing my best to drag out tenses and vocabulary that haven’t crossed my mind in twenty years. (Side note: the Red Cross in Noumea offers French lessons for adults for $50 per year. PER YEAR. For three hours of coursework and an hour of conversation every week! I’ve never heard of such a bargain.) Stylish will begin as soon as a place opens up in her school, and, in the meantime, Erik is getting her started. I expect the girls to be helping me with my homework very shortly.
And that is why 98% sure is not 100% sure. And we didn’t get Tasmania this year after all. Another time. And I expect we are going to have a great time continuing to explore New Caledonia.
Here I will try to distill some basic information common to all watermakers. I won’t hide the fact that I’m affiliated with Spectra Watermakers (I’m a consultant there), but I cruised for ten years and became intimate, oh-so-intimate, with a Katadyne, nee PUR, nee Recovery Engineering PowerSurvivor 35 then 40:
First of all, if you’re not planning to do some serious cruising, don’t get a watermaker! A watermaker will be the most maintenance intensive device you have aboard. They take constant vigilance and care, and the second you install one and first expose it to sea water, so begins the long (or short) decline of the membrane, the specialized “filter” that separates fresh water from salt. And they ain’t cheap: The smallest models run $4000-$5000. More output, more money. And it’s a fairly involved installation, which will take up some real estate, and require electrical connections, plumbing connections, and several thru-hulls. If you’re just a weekend/week-here-or-there cruiser, sticking a hose in your tank from time to time will be a simpler, cheaper option.
If you are going cruising, a watermaker is one of several key pieces of technology that can really improve your quality of life. You’ll never have to worry about the quality of dock water, or how to get it in the first place. You’ll never have to break your back carrying jerry jug after jerry jug out to your boat from some remote location. Your tanks will runneth over, more or less, as you regularly observe the small technological miracle of turning sea water into fresh. And not just any fresh water, but the best damn glass of water you’ve ever tasted.
Watermaker maintenance isn’t too onerous, but it must be regimented and regular, otherwise you’ll destroy your watermaker, or at least the membrane.
Tip: Reverse osmosis water has very few dissolved solids, so if you’ve got flooded batteries aboard you don’t need to go searching the supermarket aisles for distilled water to top up your batteries. You’re pretty much making it every day.
Reverse osmosis technology has been around since the fifties, but didn’t really become viable for small yachts until the eighties. The PowerSurvivor 35, so-called because it could be powered electrically or manually, was the first affordable shipboard watermaker for a small yacht, and the first that most cruisers remember. (Larger systems for larger yachts have been around a bit longer.) At about $2000 the PowerSurvivor 35 would reliably put out 35-40 gallons of water per day. Cruisers got to know and love them so much that if they wanted more capacity they just installed two of them.
Many cruisers, myself included, will have the sound of the PowerSurvivor etched into our brains for life. Two of my old shipmates and I could do a three part harmony, one imitating the grr-err-grr-err of the electric motor, the next doing the shhhh-chah of the piston, and the third doing the chunk-chunk of the reversing valves. They were fairly quiet, but when you listen to something for hours every day, for years on end, it sticks with you.
I am biased toward sailboats with simple DC systems, and I don’t like the sound of generators spoiling my cocktail hour, so for me a watermaker must have two qualities, and these are non-negotiable: They must be quiet, and they mustn’t use a lot of electricity.
To give an example to the contrary, on my trip to Clipperton Island last year, the owner of the expedition boat installed a watermaker that he got from…I don’t know. It didn’t have a name. To backtrack a bit, there’s nothing technologically unique about desalinating water using reverse osmosis. If a reasonably mechanical person set out to build a watermaker they could do it with off-the-shelf parts: a high pressure pump, a membrane, a pressure vessel, a constricting valve, various high pressure hoses, and voila. The owner of my Clipperton boat did pretty much just that, and we couldn’t carry on a conversation anywhere on the whole boat while this thing was running. It’s electric pump used 30-40 amps, so one of the main engines had to be running. The high pressure lines whipped so violently that we had to screw them to the bulkhead with cushion clamps, but they still strained like angry pythons, and we were afraid they were going to rip off the bulkhead and attack us. But the contraption made about eight gallons per hour of fresh drinking water, and it made our whole trip possible:
Clipperton, an island without a lot of potable water
Compared to the contraption on my Clipperton trip, all of the manufacturers of yacht watermakers have done it with considerably more finesse, that is, they’re fairly quiet and energy efficient. You’ll often read comments from cruisers saying they could have just built their own watermaker at a fraction of the cost, using generic parts. Oh really? Again, a motivated mechanic could assemble the parts and desalinate water, but all the years of R&D and refinement by the major manufacturers add up considerably. The home grown models, while simple, are usually loud and aren’t very efficient.
Here is an excellent video tutorial on reverse osmosis desalination, and how a simple, homegrown system would work:
The efficiency comes from somehow recovering the energy consumed in bringing the water up to pressure. Reverse osmosis starts happening at about 430 PSI, but the sweet spot seems to be considerably higher, usually around 800 PSI. Energy is consumed bringing sea water up to 800 PSI, so to let it go squirting off in a big fountain after it’s passed the membrane would be a big waste. This pressurized water, and the energy it contains, is carried back into the pump and recycled. This requires a sophisticated, specialized pump. This diagram shows the connections to a Pearson Pump, used on larger Spectra models. You’ll see it has a high pressure outlet to the membranes, and a high pressure inlet coming right back:
By the way, that 800 PSI, while a very high pressure, isn’t the highest hydraulic pressure on your boat. That honor goes to the high pressure side of your diesel injection system, which can be as high as 160,000 PSI. If you’ve got a hydraulic backstay adjuster, it can run up to 5000-6000 PSI.
To give one example of such a specialized pump (again, I’m biased) the proprietary Clark Pump (no connection with me, although I wish I could take credit) used in Spectra watermakers up to 1000 gallons per day, is a triumph of elegance and ingenuity. It isn’t technically a pump, but a pressure intensifier. There are no wires or motors in the Clark Pump: It just takes the pressure from a Sureflow feed pump, of 80-120 PSI, and intensifies it to osmotic pressure. I’ve even built a few Clark Pumps, and I’m still not sure I understand them, but they work, and they’re quiet:
Reality Check: Watermakers are all named and quantified in gallons of output per day. On a small yacht you’ll seldom run a watermaker all day. Even the smaller units (Katadyne PowerSurvivor 40, Spectra Ventura, Village Marine Little Wonder) will consume 5-10 Amps at 12 Volts DC, meaning they will drain 120-250 Amp hours from your battery banks in 24 hours. This is a fairly large drain, and this energy will need to be replaced somehow. If you’re motoring for days on end, run the watermaker 24/7 and take lots of showers. But if you’re sitting at anchor, as cruisers tend to do, you’ll probably just run your watermaker part of the time. I got into a groove a running my watermaker for 4-5 hours per day, while the sun was shining on my solar panels, then flushing with product water until the next day. Whenever I ran my engine, I ran my watermaker.
Pre-filters, pre-filters, pre-filters!
I’ll say it again, pre-filters! Pre-filter changes are the most important, and most neglected tasks in watermaker upkeep. All systems employ pre-filters before the seawater gets to the pump or the membrane. Different systems employ different levels of pre-filtration, but at a minimum they filter out seaweed, plankton, whale poop, sticks, stones, etc. They must be changed regularly. Here’s why: Have you ever smelled stagnant seawater, like when you flush your head for the first time in two weeks? It’s the foulest smell on earth, worse than raw sewage, in my book, but actually containing some of the same ingredients as raw sewage, namely hydrogen sulphide, which gives off that rotten egg smell. When all that plankton, squid eggs, and whale poop gets filtered out by the pre-filter(s), it doesn’t go away, it just sits there in the pre-filter, and soon begins to rot.
Imagine a scale of filtration: At one end of the scale is a coffee filter; at the other end is reverse osmosis. In between, at various levels of filtration, which are measured in microns (millionths of a meter) and fractions of microns, we’ll see increasingly small things getting filtered out: dust, bacteria, dyes, viruses. Wow, by the time we get to reverse osmosis almost nothing gets through but water molecules. It’s some damn pure water. Almost. Almost nothing else gets through. When that crap in the pre-filter decomposes, the hydrogen sulfide molecules are a small as water molecules, and don’t get filtered out. They end up in the water, and let me tell you, my friends, it’s a rude morning wake-up to have your coffee, and your whole tank, smell and taste of raw sewage. And there’s no way to guard against this: Many manufacturers include a salinity probe with a diversion valve, so that if the water is too salty I won’t be allowed into your tanks. There’s no such thing as a stink-o-meter, so changing the pre-filters is the only preventative.
Many watermaker manufacturers have been blamed for the stink, when it’s not their fault. Pre-filter changes are the owner’s responsibility. How often to change them depends on the sea water. Strangely, in the island tropics, where you’ve got a nice warm environment for bacterial growth and decomposition, the water is usually very clear and contains few microorganisms to decompose. Cruising somewhere like Hawaii or Tahiti you can probably get away with going a week or so without changing the pre-filters. Somewhere warm where the water’s murky, like a coastal tropical area with a river outflow, you should probably change the pre-filters every day or two. How will you know the difference? Because you’ll be checking all the time. If they’re black you’ll know you’ve got decomposing ocean muck in your pre-filters; if they’re white you’ll know they’ll still clean. You’ll be intimate with your pre-filter situation, because if you aren’t you might contaminate your whole water supply and be very unpopular with your guests.
With all this in mind, the pre-filter location is paramount. It’s worth routing hoses all over creation to get those pre-filter housings to a convenient place. If you have to climb into a scalding hot engine room to burn yourself while changing a pre-filter you’ll be less likely to do it.
Pre-filters can be cleaned and recycled, at least a few times. I got in the habit of dragging dirty ones behind the boat, if underway, or hanging them overboard at anchor, baking them in the sun for a day or two, then recycling.
Beyond regular pre-filter changes, watermaker care becomes a little more varied. It’s a big, sophisticated pump, with parts that will wear over time, so pump re-builds every year or two, or every 1000-2000 hours of use. In this regard, watermaker maintenance can be compared to diesel engine maintenance: Not terribly difficult once we’ve got it figured out, but we’ve got to stay on top of it.
What’s stickier is the general discussion of membrane care. The membrane is a very specialized, high tech thing, not really a filter, by definition. While pressurized water flows past the membrane, some of it, called permeate, goes through the membrane and goes into your tanks as fresh water. The rest goes overboard as brine. As long as this process goes on, the membrane is generally happy. If you shut your watermaker down and leave it full of seawater, stuff will start to grow on the membrane and foul it.
The first line of defense is to flush your membrane with product water, which is part of the shut-down process. It hurts to watch all this hard-won water flush the membrane and go overboard. On some systems this flushing happens automatically; on others it’s a manual operation, some more manual than others.
Back to pre-filters: In some systems the fresh water flushing includes the pre-filters; in others it just flushes the membrane. In neither case does it clean the pre-filters. The only way to get the soon-to-rot crap out of the pre-filters is to change them.
If you’re going to let it sit for more than a few days, fresh water flushing isn’t enough and you should pickle the membrane with a biocide solution.
Pickling is hard on the membrane. Fouling will clog the membrane. Chlorine (as from a municipal water supply) will damage the membrane. Oil or petroleum products will damage the membrane. Time will damage the membrane.
How much damage? Nobody seems to know, but all of these things are bad. It turns out a little chlorine from a municipal water supply won’t really hurt a membrane that much. Oil usually floats on the surface of the water, while the intakes are below the water, and a little oil won’t be a complete disaster.
There are cleaning solutions for membranes, alkaline for biological growth, acid for mineral deposits. Cleaning is also detrimental to the membrane.
What’s a sailor to do when all these things damage the membrane? We do our best, follow the directions, stay away from the damaging practices when possible, and choose the lesser of the evils: Obviously pickling is preferable to leaving the membrane unprotected for two months. If we do our best our membranes will probably lead reasonably long lives. In the worst case, a replacement membrane for a small unit runs $400-$600, less if you shop around.
I cleaned, pickled, and flushed my membrane, forgot those things and left it steeping in sea water for days on end several times, and my membrane lasted ten years. It might still be okay, but the rest of the watermaker, or at least the electric motor, has definitely given up the ghost. I have no intention of installing another one until the far horizons beckon again.
Russ & Laurie Owen sat down with me on their catamaran ‘Nexus’ in Tortola last week. They had just completed the Caribbean 1500, and are on their way to St. Lucia now to sail around the world with World ARC. I warmed to Russ & Laurie straightaway in Portsmouth at the start of the rally – they’re just genuine, nice people! Russ is very proud of the refit he’s done on the boat – he’s an aerospace engineer by trade, and one look at the ‘guts’ of his boat will tell you that he’s thought it all through and then some. We chatted about their plans, how they got into sailing and what motivated them to make the leap and embark on such a long adventure. Thanks Russ & Laurie!
My last post about All is Lost, perhaps the worst sailing movie ever made, has garnered so much attention, I thought I better point to what I consider to be a most excellent sailing movie. True, Hold Fast, a documentary released in 2007, is not fiction, but it could be. It tells the story of a skinny white guy with dreads named Mike (aka Moxie Marlinspike) who cruises from Florida to the Dominican Republic with an all-girl crew of post-punk anarchists in a decrepit Pearson 30.
The crew of Pestilence seems to view cruising under sail almost as a political act. By reclaiming an ugly hulk of a fiberglass boat and rebuilding it with scavenged materials (they step the mast with the dinghy davit of an untended superyacht), then sailing away in it despite its manifest unseaworthiness, they are making a statement against our disposable consumer culture. What they teach us is that only by stepping outside this culture can we truly experience life.
They aspire to be “sailing maniacs,” and they succeed: “The maniacs are the ones who have accepted their insignificance to the vast expanses of unrelenting ocean and yet still sail on quixotically, because they are in love with the direct, unmediated experience they find out there.”
The good ship Pestilence before her guerilla refit
The all-girl crew: Kirsten, Allie, and Lisa
Heading ashore for fresh water
Moxie hunts for food
Making a direct deposit
Dancing with a water spout
One of the best things about it is you can watch it for free online. Running length is a bit over an hour, but it’s time well spent:
Entertainment on our cruising boat is pretty low tech. Oh, we watch some of the movies and TV series, but a lot of our fun and games as a family are the kind that doesn’t have a screen or need a power supply.It occurred me this last week, as I watched our kids playing with their new friends from sv Water Musick (that’s Bananagram happening in the Totem main cabin, above), that having some idea starters for those games to bring on board would have been one of those really nice-to-knows before we went cruising. Cards are a great way to pack a lot of fun into a minimum of storage space. We have always been big card players and spread the fun of our family’s Chicago Rummy tournament to three continents. Priorities, you know. The kids have started playing in adult tables around age 9 or 10. There seem to be a lot of pictures on the hard drive of Chicago Rummy being played at lovely anchorages between here and Seattle: this one in Fiji, with Oso Blanco and IO. Simple card games like Uno and Spot-It are a great way to make friends when you don’t share a common language. When we have a spare set, it’s a great gift to leave behind after a fun afternoon- something to remember you by.
We’ll play cribbage pretty much anywhere. Siobhan (age 9) skunks me if I’m not paying attention. She continued her streak of cribbage domination on the beach in Langkawi last week.
Apples to Apples (which will always remind me of rainy afternoon funfriends on board Ceilydh), Pirate Fluxx, and Dutch Blitz are more card games that while aimed for kids, are absolutely fun for Jamie and me as well. Lately we’ve had fun playing the card gamne version of Monopoly as well: the themes are the same, but cards fit on a locker more easily than a playing board.One game that is decidedly not for the junior set is Cards Against Humanity. When I saw this picture of my bloggy friend Charlotte playing, I knew we had to give this one a try. I can almost guarantee: you WILL laugh as hard as she is laughing here. photo thanks to Charlotte and Eric of sv Rebel Heart
To quote Charlotte: “If you haven’t played this game yet, strap on your big-kid panties, imbibe something potent, and play it with some whip-smart friends. “ Her advance warning that this was NC/17 was is good to know… it might not hurt to be of generally the same shade of the political spectrum, too. The McCanns brought a set when they came to visit us in Borneo and we’ve been looking for excuses to play it ever since. I have never heard Jamie laugh so hard!In Mexico,we were introduced to Mexican Train dominoes. I don’t know that this is particularly Mexican, but it was popular among cruisers and a great all-ages game where the kids could compete with adults. It doesn’t use any old set of dominoes, so it took a while before we had our own set. I’ve lost count of the times we’ve played dominoes in our cockpit, washed by a warm breeze. We do have some board games: they’ve grown up and moved along as they were no longer age appropriate. Our days of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry are over. Max the Cat was just passed to our friends with a younger age of kids on board. Settlers of Catan, Axis and Allies, and chess have taken their place. Scrabble, too, but we find Banagram to be even more fun and easier to play across different spelling levels- not to mention, much more compact and travel friendly! When we started cruising, we migrated a subset of the games we had onto the boat. Before we left, I used a box cutter to cut and score boards so that we could stow them in quarter size, not as the default half. Use a bag for the playing pieces, and it all fits MUCH better in a locker that way.The simple truth is that we have a lot more time to play games together, with our friends or as a family. I don’t remember playing games nearly this much as a child. It’s certainly nothing we had the time for in our fully scheduled lives before cruising. Why not make plans for family game night this weekend?
Written by Ben Ellison on Nov 21, 2013 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
Furuno’s new multi-touch MUxxxT monitors are intended to play nicely with NavNet TZtouch MFDs. Using its DVI output, the TZT9 or TZT14 can send a screen mirror to the wopping 24-inch widescreen MU240T above — at 800×480 and 1280×800 pixels, respectively — and USB takes the touch commands back to the TZT (using a standard Windows driver). Meanwhile, the TZT Black Box has enough DVI and USB ports to drive two of these glass-bridge-style monitors (and two keypads, like the one KEP recently introduced or the one Furuno is purportedly working on)…
The Furuno MUxxxT monitors support multiple video inputs and have both Picture in Picture (PIP) and Picture by Picture (PBP) so that you can, say, navigate “while also keeping track of the news or your favorite sports team, when connected to an on-board TV/DVD player.” They’re also optically bonded and have a “typical” viewing angle of about 89° in all directions (which seems amazing) and they can be powered by both AC and DC with uninterrupted fail over to the latter.
It doesn’t take much sleuthing to learn that Furuno’s monitors are at least based on Hattleland Series X displays like the ones above on display at the NMEA Conference, and that’s not a bad thing. The two companies have a long term relationship (as does Raymarine and Hatteland, though I’m not sure we’ve seen results yet), and Hatteland quietly manufactures a lot of high-end marine monitors.
Interestingly, Hatteland also offers X Series panel computers, which are essentially the same displays with a PC fitted to the back. I can’t help but notice that one of these X Series computers is shown as the PC of choice for Furuno Deutchland’s MaxSea PC Radar package, which has expanded to include open-array DRS radars since Kees covered this no-MFD-required concept last winter. I haven’t asked Furuno USA about PC Radar since then, but they seemed confident then that it’s not doing very well in Europe and wouldn’t garner much interest here in the States.
Besides, Furuno and even its software sibling, Nobeltec, have been focused on the commercial market recently and one very interesting result is TimeZero Coastal Monitoring. It’s essentially a small VTS system that’s unusually easy and economical to install, because it’s based on Furuno hardware and Nobeltec software that’s relatively mass produced (check this PDF for detail on what a more official VTS involves). There’s some neat extra sauce, though, like the ability to play back four VHF audio streams along with vessel tracks, radar and FLIR video recordings. The software also has impressive facilities for setting up custom monitoring zones and sophisticated alerting, which are well illustrated toward the end of the demo video.
I know that some boaters dislike the idea of more surveillance, but I prefer to look at the bright side, like the opportunity for more coastal authorities to be able to help me better if I get in trouble and the chance that some of the new aspects of this system will trickle down to regular boating.
Finally got a chance to see this over the weekend, so now I can throw in my two cents. Problem is if you’re a sailor, you spend the whole film scratching your head, wondering what the hell is going on. Just how much did this annoy me? O, let me count the ways:
Mystery 1: Who is this guy? Where is he coming from? Where is he going to? Why is he in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Why should we care about him?
Mystery 2: The sea is absolutely flat calm, not a breath of wind, our Mystery Man is sleeping below (up forward, if you can believe it), without his engine running, and is struck amidships by a floating container… hard enough that it knocks a huge hole in the boat right where his nav station is. How could this possibly have happened? Was the container self-propelled?
Mystery 3: Mystery Man must somehow push the evil container away from his boat. He tries with a boathook. No go. Aha! The sea anchor! He attaches this to the container (remember again, we are in absolutely flat calm conditions), and it instantly pulls the container away from the boat. How does that work? Where can I get a sea anchor like that?
Mystery 4: Repairing the hole! Mystery Man does this with some fiberglass cloth, a few sticks, and some West System epoxy (nice product placement there!), while sailing with the boat well heeled over in a flat calm in almost no wind. How is that possible?
Mystery 5: Finally it dawns on us–the container hit in the nav station must be an important plot device. Mystery Man’s electronics have been completely saturated. He opens up his portable satellite phone and his VHF radio, rinses them in fresh water, and leaves them to dry. Once they’re dry, he focusses exclusively on trying to get the VHF (range maybe 30 miles max) to work and ignores the much more useful sat phone (range global) completely. Say what?
Mystery 6: That weird thing hanging on the back of his boat, what the heck is that? A Hollywood version of a windvane? Are those lines we see wrapped around the axle of the steering wheel supposed to be control lines? The bottom of the device, when we see it underwater, presents simply as a big rail that is bolted to underside of the hull. Say what? What did they spend on this film? Couldn’t they afford to buy a real windvane?
You can see the Mystery Object That is Presumably a Windvane, which is bolted vertically to the boat’s transom, off on the right side in this photo
Mystery 7: What’s wrong with the jib??? It never looks like it is even fully hoisted. And whenever it is deployed, it is always luffing and is never trimmed.
Mystery 8: Mystery Man hears a VHF transmission on his radio, but can’t transmit. He climbs the mast to check the antenna, which turns out to be badly broken and disconnected. How could the radio possibly receive a transmission with the antenna like that? How was the antenna broken? Did the self-propelled container somehow fly up there and whack it before shooting back down into the hull amidships?
Mystery 9: While up the mast, Mystery Man sees an enormous storm just a few miles away. It has turned half the sky all black. Why didn’t he notice this while on deck?
Mystery 10: During the two storms he sails through during the film, we notice that Mystery Man has a habit of always closing the companionway completely when he is below, but always leaves it wide open when he is on deck. When his boat is rolled and completely capsized with the companionway wide open, how is it that very little water gets below?
During his first storm, Mystery Man goes forward to bend on the storm jib (before the storm, after he finally noticed it, he spent his time shaving instead of doing this). While on the foredeck he is swept overboard. Fortunately, he is clipped on–to the top lifeline, as you can see here. Amazingly, the lifeline and stanchion post do not break away under the load, and Mystery Man is strong enough to instantly hoist himself back aboard!
Here we see Mystery Man surviving his second capsize. He has no problem staying with the boat, even though he is not tethered to it. Note also the wide open companionway, which evidently did not result in any catastrophic downflooding
Mystery 11: The boat of Mystery Man loses its rig the second time it is rolled, and the broken mast ends up in the water on the boat’s port side. This somehow creates a new hole in the boat, up forward on the starboard side. Where’d that hole come from? If the plot demands there be a hole, why not just use the first one? The repair on that one was so patently flimsy it looks like you could easily poke a finger through it. How could it possibly have survived two violent capsizes?
Mystery 12: The new hole is sinking Mystery Man’s boat, so he takes to his liferaft. He leaves the raft tethered to the boat and falls asleep. Shouldn’t he be worried that the boat will drag the raft down with it?
Mystery 13: After his nap, Mystery Man has plenty of time to reboard his boat and gather supplies. How long was that nap? Why does the boat take so long to sink? Did the ballast keel fall off or something?
Mystery 14: Just how does Mystery Man stay so dry all the time?
Mystery 15: Mystery Man, since losing his electronics, has been brushing up on his celestial navigation. Once adrift in his raft he displays uncanny ability. He takes a sun sight, looks in a book, stares at his (perfectly dry) chart for a few seconds, and makes a mark at his location–no timepiece, no parallel rules, no dividers, no math, no worksheet required. Where can I learn to do this?
Mystery 16: Why does Mystery Man have no EPIRB?
Mystery 17: Why is Mystery Man’s liferaft moving so quickly? Judging from those marks he makes on his chart, he’s covering about 100 miles a day.
ANYWAY… I think you get the point. I could go on and on like this. Pretty much everything that happens to Mystery Man, and everything he does, is inexplicable to anyone who knows anything about ocean sailing.
I asked my wife, who doesn’t know much about sailing, if any of this bothered her, and she said she did wonder about Mystery Man’s ability to stay dry and the rapidly drifting liferaft. Otherwise she thought Robert Redford gave a great performance as the Mystery Man.
Frankly, I didn’t see that. All I saw was a man who looked confused, aggravated, and worried for over an hour and a half. I had exactly the same expression on my face the entire time.
The Biggest Mystery, of course, is why didn’t the filmmakers hire someone to advise them on what ocean sailing is really like? Reading through this very detailed precis on the film, I find only references to liferaft and marine electronics consultants. I know you can’t expect Hollywood’s version of reality to be much like real reality, but they could have done much better than this.
If you haven’t seen the film, I say give it a pass. Watch this trailer instead: