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Author: Michael

Top 10 Things We’re REALLY Glad To Have On Board

Top 10 Things We’re REALLY Glad To Have On Board

When moving from a house to a boat you’ll be getting rid of a LOT of things, but you’ll also be buying a lot of boating related items as well. The list can be very long, but here are some of the things we have on board that we love and use the most!

Disclaimer: Yes, most of these are amazon links, we will receive a (very) small percentage of anything you order after clicking one of these links, even if you don’t buy the item you clicked on!  It works as long as you buy within 24 hours, and it doesn’t add anything to the cost of the items!

  1. Vibrating Speaker –  When we left our house in Texas, the one item I thought I would miss the most was our sound bar.  We enjoy watching movies, and good sound is a big part of that.  I received this as a giveaway from one of the vendors I used to work with, and it’s small, but this little guy manages to put out pretty good sound!  Place it on top of something big and hollow, and the bass is amazing.  Sound quality isn’t quite as good as our sound bar was, but it’s pretty awesome for the size!
  2. 2-1/2 Gallon No Spill Gas Can –  There are the cheap, crappy gas cans you get at Wal-Mart, and there is this.  Seriously, trying to fill a generator or outboard in a rocking boat with a conventional gas can is the worst.  It’s heavy, awkward and you spill all over when trying to get it lined up.  With this gas can, I can literally just stick the spout in the fill cap, push the button, and bam, filling done!  We still use the old style 5 gallon cans for deck storage, but I transfer it to this can for filling our gasoline powered devices on a daily basis (I’m slowly replacing them all with the 5 gallon version).
  3. The Wagon Store Folding Wagon –  We thought for a really long time about this before pulling the trigger.  Specifically, how to get the kids and our gear to and from the boat. We talked about dollies with folding bins, strollers, and wagons, then we saw this wagon.  155 lb weight capacity, 2 seat belts for the kiddos, a shade, and it folds up into less space than a stroller. (Brittany here) I LOVE this wagon. It’s a breeze to pull, even with all three kids or bags and bags of groceries. I recommend this wagon more often than anything else. Side note, it was featured on Windtraveler’s Instagram account, and that’s how we heard about it!
  4. Amazon Kindle –  For years I tried to get Brittany on the Kindle bandwagon, she loves reading books and I figured she would like one. But she’s always had a love of paper books, and the Kindles never excited her.  Just before we left, someone from my work gave us a Kindle (you know who you are), and she can’t put the darn thing down now!  On a boat, space comes at a premium so the Kindle makes sense in this respect, but just the ease of browsing books, reading samples, and buying them got Brittany hooked.
  5. Yamaha 2000 Watt Inverter Generator –  While we do have solar panels and a wind generator on the boat they can’t always keep up with demand, especially in northern climates or in the winter time.  I did a lot of research and the Yamaha EF2000ISV2 is the top of the line for 2000 watt generators.  Lighter and quieter than a Honda, has a gas gauge, 1.1 gallon tank will last about 4 hours full tilt, but the engine idles down to the demand and we’ve had it run as long as 8 hours with our space heater on low.  Some boats have an on board (built in) generator, but this is nice because I can take it ashore if power is not available.
  6. Dorcy Floating LED Flashlights – OK, I like to think I’m on the cutting edge of flashlight technology, and I’ve always wanted to have one of those really cool bright flashlights that can blind you from a mile away.  I’ve always had bad luck with LED flashlights, usually the circuit board will go out within a couple of months and they’ll start flickering on me.  BUT, we bought 4 of these cheapo flashlights, and they have been truly impressive.  They are cheap enough I don’t mind giving them to the girls, knowing they will drop them, but we have yet to have a failure.  They are bright enough for general boat needs and they seem to last a pretty long time before needing a battery change.
  7. Washing Wand –  I have to admit I started out cruising naively thinking we would do all of our laundry in a bucket with a plunger and hanging it out to dry.  Unfortunately, we do Laundromat more often than I’d like (cha-ching!), but now that we are in warmer climates doing laundry-by-bucket is a bit more feasible.  The plunger method has worked out fine, but wore out quickly and isn’t that easy on the back.  Brittany now swears by the washing wand – it is sturdy, has a tall handle, and is larger in diameter than a typical plunger.
  8. Havianas Flip Flops –  OK, this is kind of expensive for flip flops (according to our standards), but these are comfortable, durable, light, and they float if (when) you drop them in the water!  I’ve even spilled diesel on them, and they don’t disintegrate on me.  Brittany even got a pair for herself, after seeing how great mine were.
  9. Our iPad – These days you would think pretty much everyone has a tablet, but we were holdouts.  Seriously, I’m not an Apple person, but as usual I didn’t know what I was missing out on until we had one.  We use the iPad for kids games, watching movies, internet, but most importantly it’s our main navigation device.  Again, we got this as a gift from someone at work, and it’s been invaluable!
  10. Blow up pool – If you have young kids this can be a great way for them to get some “water” time when you aren’t able to supervise them in the water or shuttle them to the beach.  Just blow it up, scoop some water into it, and throw some toys in it (our kids love spoons and cups) and they’ll have hours of fun.  This one fit our back deck, but get any size that fits your boat.

Whether you’re looking for a gift for your favorite cruiser or just trying to outfit your own boat, I hope this list will be useful to you!

This was written earlier this year while we were still cruising and island hopping!

Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)

Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)

Sunset near Great Harbor Cay

Bimini would soon be behind us as we set off for our longest day passage yet- 83 miles that took 12 hours of motor sailing. We were ready to discover a more unknown side of the Bahamas, the Berry Islands. They are less traveled and underestimated as a cruising ground, but worth the stunning views.

The first evening, daylight was slowly fading and we didn’t have enough sun to make our way into the anchorage, so we anchored just off the island as the sun was setting. There was nothing but ocean behind us and gorgeous clear waters beneath us. It was probably the most magnificent sunset we’ve seen, and I’m not sure any other will top it.

sunset on the ocean

Our first couple of days on the Berry Islands were a whirlwind of activity. We met a another family through s/v Totem and we tagged along as they showed us the island. We dinghied through dense mangrove canals, sometimes just wide enough (barely!) for one dinghy. We went through a broad, clear turquoise lagoon where sea turtles swam around and under our boat. We walked along beaches, saw waves crash over rocks and found some beautiful shells. It was quite the introduction to the island, and we have s/v Mahi to thank for that!

Mangroves! photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem

The next day, Mike and the girls followed along with s/v Totem and s/v Mahi as they explored the island by car, while I stayed on the boat with Haven. They visited a shallow beach cave, gorgeous beach flats and found some beautiful marine life.

when the tide is out, the beach is dry and beautifully pattered by waves
photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem
photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem

The island is fairly remote. In 2010, the population of the islands was about 800 people. The town near Great Harbor Cay (“Cay” is pronounced “key”) is small. There is no bank, only two small grocery stores (about the size of a gas station mart back home), plus a couple of small restaurants and a marina which brings a lot of boats to the area.

visiting the first local grocery store with Carla from s/v Mahi and Behan from s/v Totem
the second store

I bought a bag of fresh fruits there and felt content that we still had more than we needed. After all, we had a fridge stocked with butter, plenty of cheese, some sausage, vegetables and a freezer that kept things even colder for longer. Plus we had lockers packed with canned foods, grains of all kinds, desserts and snacks.

After a few days at Great Harbor Cay, we traveled around to Hawk’s Nest Cay to be closer to our destination of Eleuthera when we were ready to cross. We met another boat family and decided to hang out on the gorgeous, pristine beaches for a few extra days. There was no marina there, just nearby a little restaurant on the other side of the beach. And that is where our fridge catastrophically broke.

a rough passage to Hawk’s Nest Cay
the waters at Hawk’s Nest Cay were breathtaking

It had been showing signs of malfunction back in Florida, and Mike, being the handy man that he is, had been tinkering with it since then, trying to get it to begin functioning normally again. It was cycling too often and not maintaining a cold temperature, but eventually, it would always get cold again. It was a minor annoyance until we were anchored in a beautiful, but remote part of the Berry Islands. There, its temperature skyrocketed and it was officially done being a fridge.

We quickly gave the bulk of our cheese (one huge block, one huge bag of shredded, and a few blocks of cream cheese) to our friends traveling with us. We kept a little cheese that we knew we could eat. We started eating through the 2 dozen eggs we had left and decided to keep the butter, even though we still had a ton. It seemed like the old saying “Cruising is just boat maintenance in exotic locations” was absolutely true, but the fridge finally dying meant that there was one less thing we had to figure out how to fix with only the supplies we had on board. Truthfully, we were relieved!

From our experience so far, embracing the unexpected is an integral part of happy cruising. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy. Being flexible, changing plans, embracing set backs is all part of this life. It’s a part of every life, but traveling on a boat, it’s a much more daily, in our face reality. One that we are choosing to accept.

Many cruising boats do not have fridges and they get along just fine without it. Now we are experimenting to see if we can do without one too. Bonus for us: we get to keep way more power now that we don’t have a fridge! The fridge and freezer used a lot of power that we made from our solar panels and wind generator. Now we can use that extra power to keep lights and fans on a little longer, and even use the TV that came with the boat!

our favorite recipe that doesn’t need a fridge: energy balls made with peanut butter, oats, and dates

We are buying ice and keeping a few items in the section that used to be our freezer. For now this works for us: keeping a few eggs, a little cheese and butter from melting is all we really need. We mostly cook up pasta, hearty vegetables, rice and beans, potatoes, breads, Mexican dishes using flour or corn tortillas, canned fruit or some fresh fruit and soups with biscuits or sandwiches. Meat is a treat now. When our ice is cold, we may buy meat for one night or eat it when we are out at a restaurant. We certainly appreciate certain foods more now than before!

Haven loves the beach too

We have since moved on to a different island in the Bahamas called Eluethera and are continuing to face challenges and joys. With cruising, there are always opportunities to practice embracing the unexpected!



Cost of Cruising: Our March 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our March 2017 Budget

Photo courtesy of our friends on SailingTotem

This month’s budget recap is brought to you by… Michael! (Brittany usually writes it). Let me know if you think it’s entertaining/funny/awesome.

And to compliment it, I’ve made up this fancy chart breaking down our expenses by category. Cool, right? We really enjoyed our $1,500 month, and the key to that is setting a budget beforehand. So we made a new budget tracker in Excel and we set our budget at $3,284.14 (the odd number is because of some fixed expenses such as web hosting, most of the categories are just educated guesses).

Boat repair / misc – $1,289. The windlass (the electric motor that pulls up the anchor) was functioning, but we wanted to have it checked out. This is a critical piece of equipment that seems to get ignored until it breaks most of the time. We took the motor to an alternator shop and it only cost about $120 to have it looked over. The heat exchanger had a few leaks and needed to be rebuilt ($230). New hoses for the engine ($158). The mixing elbow for the exhaust had a leak and we had a new one made ($190). That, plus some spare anodes, fluids, filters and a few tools.

The salt stains are from a leak.
This had a very small leak, but it was dripping right onto the engine mount.
Marlee helping out with the windlass removal.

Dockage – $370. Because of the engine and windlass repairs, we didn’t feel comfortable at anchor. If we dragged or for some reason needed to move, we would be completely disabled. So we took a ridiculously expensive mooring in Fort Lauderdale. Seriously, never go to Las Olas Marina. Ever. Overpriced and run down. 8 nights at $40 a night. Also, unlike Vero Beach, there isn’t really anywhere convenient to land your dinghy for free. We had our choice of Las Olas marina who charges $20, or Southport Raw Bar who charges $10 (but will credit that to your food bill, if you eat there). Southport is where we went most of the time, $50.

Flying her kite in the mooring field.

Groceries, $1165.83. We went way over budget on groceries, namely because of a friend of ours who was in the Bahamas already warned us, buy everything you can in the States! So we did. This killed the budget for this month, but hopefully will repay us as we travel along. As we have found so far groceries seem to be about twice as expensive in the Bahamas.

Fuel – $286.11. With gas and diesel at over $4/gallon in the Bahamas, we topped up as much as we could in Florida. We filled the tank to full and all of our jerry cans as well.

Our sophisticated “dipstick” method for checking the fuel level.

Travel – $320.83. This category includes clearance into the Bahamas ($300) and a few Uber trips in Ft Lauderdale.

And of course there are those recurring expenses, web hosting (12.74). Phone which usually comes in around $80 with T-Mobile. We weren’t planning on buying a BTC phone card in the Bahamas, since our T-Mobile service claimed it would work here. Well it works, but is deathly slow so we bought a high speed data card from BTC for those times we just can’t wait. $49. However we’ve even found BTC’s service to be spotty.

Repairing a Caframo Bora 3 Speed Fan

Repairing a Caframo Bora 3 Speed Fan

In the world of cruising boats, Caframo fans seem to be praised as the most efficient fans out there, however they seem to have short life spans.  We have four such fans on our boat, and when we moved aboard none of them worked.  I’m mechanically inclined but no engineer by any means, however at $60/each I was compelled to at least take one apart and see if I could fix it.  What harm could it do?

Well, I managed to fix all of them!  The culprit seems to be in the circuit board. Perhaps when the bearings rust a little bit, it puts too much load on , and it fries.  Removing the circuit board and bypassing it with a manual switch worked for all of them.

  1. Unscrew the four screws holding the cage on the back, and with an 8 mm ratchet loosen the nut that holds the fan to the motor shaft.  It only needs about 1/4 turn and the fan will come off the shaft.
  2. Unscrew the two screws that hold the motor to the housing (only one visible in picture), and the two screws that hold the cable to the housing.
  3. Pull the motor out; the circuit board is soldered to the motor.  With a soldering gun heat up the solder one side at a time to soften it, and pry the board off the motor.  Go ahead and clip and strip the positive and negative leads on the cable.  You can discard the black plastic spacer that is behind the circuit board.
    Clearly the problem here is with the circuit board!
  4. Re-attach the fan to the shaft. This helps stabilize the motor while you are soldering, and allows you to test the leads to make sure the fan is blowing the right direction.  Connect the + and – leads to each of the motor terminals, with power applied, air should be blowing towards the wire.  Solder them in place or if you have the right connectors you can use them.
  5. If the motor sounds bad when you applied power, try some PB blaster on the bearings up and a follow up with a drop of oil.  They are easy to get to with the circuit board out of the way and the fan off of the shaft.
  6. Since we discarded the circuit board the grey button just rattles around inside of the housing.  Before re-assembling glue it in place to stop this.
  7. Re-assemble the fan and place a switch on the + side to switch the fan on and off.  This takes away the multi-speed capabilities of the fan, but its simple and I could do it with parts found locally.  You could order a rheostat ($10-15) if you want variable speed, but for us this would have meant ordering parts and coming up with a housing to mount it inside of, it’s also more expensive!
  8. Turn it on, pop open a cold drink and enjoy saving $60!



Cost of Cruising: Our January 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our January 2017 Budget

It is halfway through February, but I am finally finishing this post on how our budget fared in January. In January we decidedly changed one thing about our budget: we would stop docking at marinas! We spent too much on marina fees in December, and we knew we could not keep that up. Since January 1st, we have not stayed at one marina or even a mooring field. We have been very happy with this decision and we know it has saved us money and caused us to learn how to live on a boat more sustainably.

Our beautiful view at anchor

Our month of January was mostly spent anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. It was the longest we had stayed in one place, and we also had the ability to pick up packages from a friend’s marina, so we were taking advantage of that and ordering things we needed while we were there. We were also in St. Augustine recertifying our life raft, so January was a “big” month for expenses, unfortunately. Three things to keep in mind for our budget: 1) We put aside about $10,000 to spend on major expenses, like the life raft, to get us started in this lifestyle. We finished spending that amount in January. 2) We jumped into living aboard and traveling right away instead of working and outfitting the boat while on land, as many do, so our budget reflects that, and 3) We are a family of five with growing children!

Ready to explore downtown St. Augustine

We are hoping that we can learn how to live off of less than what we are right now. I’ll be honest, I’m sure we’ve spent more than we sometimes needed to, just because this is all so new for us! We are learning what we need and what we don’t need, and how to get by without things that we were used to.

Here’s how we did:

All amounts are in US dollars.

Dock fees $10.00 – This was for one day to tie up our dinghy at the municipal dinghy dock in St. Augustine. This fee also allowed us access to showers and laundry facilities. (We still had to pay for the laundry machines).

The art district

Groceries $1,085.31 – We had access to a car in St. Augustine, so we made a trip and spent a few hundred dollars more on extra provisions.

Laundry $44.25 – Laundry was a little more expensive there.

Cell phone $84.72 – This is for one phone plus unlimited data.

Eating out/Entertainment $105.47 – This is slightly higher than what we normally spend, but still good in my book. We did not pay for one museum in St. Augustine (and there are many!) so we were pleased with the fun things we did that didn’t cost anything. It would have been easy to spend a lot of money there, but we are glad we didn’t.

Couldn’t pass up Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar!

Gas/Diesel $319.09 – We have motored on the same tank of gas since North Carolina, and finally refilled our tank in Florida. The gas is for our generator and dinghy engine.

Hosting service for our websites $12.74

Medical insurance $0 – Right now we are in between and are deciding what to do for insurance coverage.

Boat parts and maintenance $516.63 – We worked on a few boat projects and maintenance issues.

Misc items $173.75 – pillows, water jugs, cleaning products, matches and lighters, extra dental care items, a couple of clothing items and a present for a friend plus a few other random items falls into this category.

Total = $2,351.96


*Not included in this total is the recertification of our life raft which cost about $930 (still cheaper than buying a new one). And roughly $1,000 on items we felt would be necessary and fun for our lifestyle on a boat! This includes a stand-up paddle board, stinger suits and a climbing harness for the girls, flippers, a wet suit and snorkel gear for Mike, more natural sunscreen, spare parts for the boat, and an amazing wagon for walking with the girls and carrying provisions back to the boat.

We love our wagon!

Stayed tuned for our February budget soon!




Note To Self: Do Not Drop Stuff In The Bilge!

Note To Self: Do Not Drop Stuff In The Bilge!

The day before we left St Augustine, I was checking and topping off the oil.  I’m not sure why I did this, but I set the oil fill cap on top of the engine.  Shortly thereafter, I bumped into it and knocked it off the engine!

Fortunately it landed on a wiring harness, but in the process of fishing it off of there, it slipped down into the bilge.  If you remember from this post, the bilge is approximately 3 feet deep and sits directly below the engine.

Pretty much everything important falls into the impossible to reach zone.

Knowing this part could not be retrieved with a magnet this time (it’s plastic), I decided I would just buy another one (and a couple of spares!)  Apparently I have the unicorn of oil fill caps, because it’s practically impossible to find, and if found is about $60 (!!!)  We came up with a makeshift solution that worked for a week or so, but I knew we’d have to do something soon.

The oldest trick in the book – “Aluminum foil oil cap”.

In the end I was able to retrieve it with a simple fishing net, but not without some more awkward positions!

Bilge diving, again.
The elusive oil fill cap!


Gromit Gets an Electronics Upgrade

Gromit Gets an Electronics Upgrade

When we bought our boat, we knew something needed to be done about the electronics.  It’s a pretty good lineup and completely functional, but dated.  This is what we have:

  • Nexus Start Pack 3 wind/depth/speed (2014)
  • Furuno VX2 chartplotter with radar (2008)
  • Comnav Autopilot (2008)
  • ACR Nauticast AIS (2009)
  • ACR EPIRB (2009)

Here are some of the issues we’ve had with the current setup:

  1. The charplotter runs on 2GB chart cards, which are difficult to find and quite a bit more expensive than the newer chart cards.  They cover smaller regions so you have to buy more of them vs the newer chart plotters.  The boat did not come with any cards, so if we wind up doing a circumnavigation, we’d end up spending many thousands of dollars on chart cards.  The plotter still functions as is for displaying AIS data, and radar, but it is overlaid on a very crude chart with no details of buoys or landmarks.
  2. The EPIRB is functioning but expired, and the registration details are for the previous owners.  EPIRB stands for Emergency Positioning Radio Beacon.  In a nutshell, if something goes wrong and we need help, we press a button and it notifies the authorities via satellite and radio transmission, sending them our GPS coordinates.  An essential piece of equipment to have on board!
  3. The AIS is transmitting the wrong MMSI number.  An MMSI number is a unique number that represents our boat.  The AIS transponder transmits data about our boat, including the MMSI number, GPS position and heading data to other boats in the area.  It also receives data about other boats and displays it on a map.  Since the boat was Canadian registered, the MMSI number was Canadian and could not be transferred to us; we had to apply for a new MMSI number from the FCC.  It can be reprogrammed by the manufacturer, but they did not respond to our emails (thanks ACR!)
Without a chart card, the plotter thinks we are on dry land!

So, replacing the EPIRB is a no brainer. The new EPIRB’s have longer service lives (10 years vs 5 years) and are user serviceable (the one we have on the boat requires you send it to a service center to get the battery replaced… uh… no!)


On the chart plotter, I felt we had three options to move forward:

  1. Keep the chart plotter and buy the cards, the cost on this is north of $2800 for a circumnavigation, plus the cards are difficult to source.
  2. Buy a new chart plotter and radar.  This route would also require buying chart cards in addition to the equipment, but at least we’d have new state of the art equipment that can run the newer chart cards.  Cost $3k+ for the gear, another $2k for the cards.
  3. Scrap the chart plotter idea altogether, and navigate using iPad and a laptop.  Equipment is free (we already own), charts are $50-100 each and cover relatively large regions.  This is the lowest cost option and the one we chose.  With the money we saved on the the cards/equipment, we decided to install an NMEA2000 cabling system that would allow the laptop and iPad to see instrument data from our GPS, depth, wind and compass.

NMEA2000 is a network protocol where all instruments get their power from, and send their data through a single communications “trunk line”.  This means you can plug a device in anywhere in the network and it can see and use data from other instruments.  It’s simple and efficient.  Here’s what we bought:

  • Garmin GND10 ($171)  – This translates between the language our Nexus Start Pack speaks and NMEA2000, and was cheaper than buying NMEA2000 instruments.
  • B&G ZG100 External GPS w/built in compass ($199) – This will feed GPS and compass data to the iPad and OpenCPN (PC).  Technically the Comnav autopilot will also feed compass data to the network, but having this keeps us from having to run the autopilot for compass data, especially useful at anchor or when using our wind vane for steering.
  • Vesper XB-8000 AIS Transponder ($686) – Ouch!  This was the big one, but it will take in all of our NMEA2000 and NMEA0183 data and broadcast the output via USB and WiFi.

The large items and all of the related cabling: $1280.

At the same time we also bought:

  • ACR GlobalFix v4 EPIRB ($399) – has a 10 year service life, and user replaceable battery!  We’re going to keep the old one, as a backup.
  • Balmar External Voltage Regulator ($432) – Not navigation related.  We were having issues with our alternator either putting out too much or too little voltage. This will hook up to the alternator on the engine and regulate it a lot better than the internal regulator does, hopefully extending the life of our battery bank (which is very expensive to replace!)

“Hey you must be rich!”  Not really.  This is a pretty modest budget for an electronics upgrade, some folks spend $10’s of thousands of dollars!  In fact, this upgrade allows us to reliably use our existing iPad and laptop for navigation, and was cheaper than buying new cards for, or replacing, the existing chartplotter!  This was also part of the “start up” budget which had already been planned.

The girls helped with the unboxing.

Despite the small-ish budget, a project like this takes careful planning.  All of the wiring needs to be special ordered to length, so I had to pre-plan where all of the components would sit and take careful measurements on the boat.  That being said, things never go to plan and adjustments had to be made as I was installing.  For example, I had planned to have the GND10 in the bow of the boat, but instead mounted it in the Nav station.  I found a cable on board (from the previous owner) that allowed me to do this, saving us a few bucks as we were able to return the cable we bought.

The existing equipment (black) and new equipment (blue).
I added a couple of wires to power the network… see the red one?
The Nexus black box and power junction for the new network under the nav station.

While the new wiring spans the entire length of the boat, most of the work took place on the stern, where I had to remove the existing AIS and AIS antenna, then add the new AIS, AIS antenna, GPS/Compass antenna and fabricate a bracket.  All of the antennas sit on the davits with the wiring run through the lazarette, which meant emptying all of the contents onto the deck.  I hate having messes on the boat, and this one persisted for almost a week!

That’s me in there, good times!
Cozy in the aft lazarette, it wasn’t worth it to take the spare anchor out.
At least it was big enough to comfortably run the wiring!
Marlee supervising to make sure I’m doing it right.
Try to keep the wires tidy and out of the way – to prevent snags when pulling items out of the lazarette.
GPS and AIS antennas on a bracket I made (the picture is strategically angled to hide my inability to cut a straight line).
AIS in the aft cabin, this keeps the length of the VHF antenna cable short, which reduces RF interference.

And the result is, somewhat anticlimactically, shown below!

iNavx on the iPad showing AIS targets and heading information, all via WiFi!
OpenCPN showing AIS and instrument data!

I contemplated our options for a really long time (like 5 months) before we pulled the trigger on this, debating whether to buy cards, a new chart plotter, or go with the system we implemented above.  This system gives us the most bang for the buck, and gives us flexibility in the future should we choose to add more components, I suppose you could say it was the “wise” path.

But also this gives us another layer of redundancy.  These days we are so dependent on GPS to navigate – we now have more GPS devices on board in case one fails.

The new EPIRB sits in its cradle next to the old one.  In an emergency we’d grab the new one first, both of them if we have time.  The older one still works, for now.

EPIRB under the companionway steps.  And the the shoe basket, very important.


Challenges and Adventures Along the ICW

Challenges and Adventures Along the ICW

Suffice to say, taking the ICW all the way from Norfolk to Charleston was not plan A.  I think we are on plan E or F by now, but that is what weather will do.  Every time we’ve been near an inlet (a channel that leads to the ocean) the weather has been less than ideal.  Instead of waiting for good weather we just took the ICW to our next port.  The ICW is pretty safe, weather wise, but there are plenty enough hazards along the way that are unique to this route.

Rain delaying our departure from Beaufort.

For one, there is a lot of shoaling (shoaling is when a normally deep area is silted in by stray currents making it too shallow transit easily).  The further south we go the worse shoaling seems to get, perhaps because there are fewer barges to blast the channel deep enough.  There is a great resource for cruisers which alerted us to most of the problem areas,  Before the start of the next day’s run I quickly jot down all of the hazards noted on Active Captain for our route such as missing markers, shoaling, and bridges that open on schedules.  When approaching a shoaling area we slow down and take it slow, most of the time other cruisers would note which side of the channel to stay on to get deeper water.

Perspective (left) and Solstice (right) both ran aground, shortly before we ran aground.


The camera is level, we hit bottom and the current spun us sideways and pushed the boat over.

Current is another issue, again the further south we go the stronger it gets, this is because of the tides.  From South Carolina to Georgia the difference between high tide and low tide gets bigger and bigger until its about 8 feet in Georgia.  This massive amount of moving water results in very strong currents which can either give you a boost (extra speed) or slow you down.  If you’re lucky you can time the tides to always catch the boost, most of the time the difference gets split.  For example, on our run from Wrightsville Beach, SC to Southport, SC, we had a 3.5 knot current against us at Snow’s Cut, and a 4 knot current with us just past there.  Considering the cruising speed of our boat is only 6 knots, the current makes a huge difference!

The ICW channel is identified with green and red markers on the left and right side of the channel, respectively.  Sometimes the markers are close together and sometimes they are far apart, sometimes you can’t even see the next marker without binoculars.  Rain and fog affect your ability to see the markers, we tried to avoid travelling on days when weather would hinder our ability to see the markers.  While the advent of GPS and electronic charts allows you to see your exact position without needing to see the markers, it is still wise to validate what is on the charts by locating the markers with your eyes as sometimes the markers move frequently, particularly in the aforementioned shoaling areas.

That being said, we did leave on a day with pretty thick fog, the forecast showed it burning off by 9AM however it wound up sticking around until 1PM!  We were travelling with Totem and they led the way, using their radar to validate there were no obstructions ahead.   However, when we came up on an area that experiences bad shoaling (and thus the markers move frequently), we wound up treading water until a boat came along with local knowledge of the channel location and we followed them through.

Talking to Totem on the radio.


Is that a bridge?? The clearance on this one was too low for Totem, we wound up going on without them.


Our buddy boat. Totem, just ahead of us.

Bridges can be an issue for some boats.  Our boat has a “bridge clearance” of 62 feet, meaning we can go under any bridge that is more than 62 feet high, although we prefer more than 64 feet!  Most bridges are designed to be 65 feet tall at high tide while others are 64 feet, but the tide, wind and weather conditions affect this.  Was there a recent full moon?  Are winds pushing the water north or south?  Has there been a lot of rain?  Bridges typically have a “tide board” posted so you can tell how much room there is to pass under.  A few of the bridges we went under showed 63 feet, some as high as 67 feet.  Totem, one of our buddy boats on this part of our journey, has a bridge clearance of 67 feet, they had to take some interesting steps to make it under some of the bridges!

The very first 65 foot bridge we went under in Norfolk. We all inched under it hoping we would clear!

Then there are the opening bridges, which sometimes run on schedules that are difficult to meet perfectly.  You might wind up treading water for 30-60 minutes waiting for the next opening.  Learning how to stop the boat and keep it stopped, accounting for wind and current, is a skill we’ve learned a lot about on this trip!

One of the many, many bridges we went through along the way.

Anchoring isn’t always easy.  Most of the ICW is a narrow, dredged channel that you can’t just pull off of without running around.  Our first day on the ICW, we anchored in an area off the channel and ran aground in the middle of the night when the wind shifted.  Since then, we’ve learned to plan our anchorage for the next day, and identify “bailout” anchorages along the way should we not make as good of time as we planned to.  Even then, some anchorages are small or shallow, or have poor holding (the surface at the bottom doesn’t hold an anchor well).  You have to choose your spot carefully to avoid crab traps, swinging into a shallow area when the tide shifts, swinging into other boats.  One night in particular we had to worry about swinging into a sunken sailboat!

Do not anchor, something…something… seems important?


Sunken sailboat at the Inlet Creek Anchorage, NC.

There aren’t many opportunities to sail on the ICW, and so many days of running the engine results in wear and tear, such as this broken copper lug that prevented us from starting the engine.  Then a few days later the nut backed itself off the same lug and caused our instruments to malfunction.  Maintenance is a fact of life on a boat!

Despite all of the challenges we faced, this has been a beautiful journey and full of God’s wonder!  We’ve seen dolphins, eagles, sunsets, sunrises and buffleheads.  We’ve met generous and interesting people who have blessed us in many ways, and it’s only the beginning of our journey!  By now we’ve left for Jacksonville, FL, stay tuned for a post about our stay in Charleston, SC!

Leaving Wrightsville Beach, NC, I’m not sure why I was so happy!


She’s just always happy!!


The girls huddled up next to the engine room blower fan for some warmth.


Swinging on a bench at Homer Smith’s marina, Beaufort, NC.


Us on a chilly day down the Alligator River Canal!
Boat Projects: Lights, Heads, Action!

Boat Projects: Lights, Heads, Action!

This month we got back to the boat after spending 3 weeks in Houston selling off the rest of our belongings!  Truly an unexpected change of plans (I feel very bad about leaving my work on such short notice, sorry guys).

Here are the boat projects we’ve finished so far:

Cleaning the water tanks and installing water filtration at the sink

When we first arrived to the boat in September we were pretty put off by the quality of the water in the tanks, what came out of the faucet was cloudy and odd smelling.  We could actually see bits of algae floating in the tank, which was continually clogging the filter just before the water pump.  Granted, the previous owners lived with this (I think they used a Brita) and no one got hurt, but I need to keep the Mrs. happy!  The remedy was a somewhat long process, which I’ve only completed for the port side tank so far.  For the mean time that is good enough since we have 165 gallon capacity per tank.

First I removed the two inspection covers and drained the tank completely using the on board water pump, toward the end I had to use a hand pump since the pick up is not in the very bottom of the tank.  The tank has 4 baffles to prevent sloshing when under way, but with only 2 of them accessible the best solution I could come up with was to blast the debris out with a water wand (similar to this one).  After that I filled the tank to the brim and shocked it with chlorine, I also ran each faucet in the boat so the chlorinated water would have a chance to sterilize the lines as well.  After 12 hours of that, I drained and filled it twice to flush the system.

The aluminum inspection covers had some kind of epoxy paint on them which was flaking off and would have resulted in a poor bond to seal them back down.  I ground this off with a wire wheel brush, and was intending to repaint it, however I have not been able to find a good “potable water” epoxy to apply that is sold in small quantities (most of what is available is industrial and sold in 5 gallon buckets).  I re-installed them bare and will tackle that later!  I’m thinking about just replacing the whole cover with a sheet of Plexiglas.

Port side water tank inspection cover, re-installed.
Port side water tank inspection cover, re-installed.

Now, the only problem here is that eventually the tank will get nasty again, its the nature of water tanks.  However there are some measures we’re taking to keep it clean:

  • Filter the water going into the tank – install a whole house filter on the water spigot when you fill your tanks.  You might think municipal water is clean, but maybe not!
  • Keep chlorine in tank – Chlorine, even if it comes from a city tap, will evaporate out of the water in a short time, add chlorine (google the correct ratio).  I have also heard of Chlorine Dioxide which is sold in tablets and is supposedly healthier / greener for the environment, but we haven’t tried it yet.
  • Keep only as much water as you need – stale water breeds bacteria and algae.  While we’re near plenty of places that have water we’re only going to use one of our water tanks.  The other one is filled as ballast, but isolated from the system.
  • Install filters at the sink – despite all of the above, I still installed a filter at the sink.  A 5 micron filter will remove chlorine and much of the taste from the water.  Smaller micron filters can remove bacteria, but that is what the chlorine is for.  We were able to re-purpose a couple of house filters that were in the engine room.  They had been set up to filter water for the entire boat, but that was just too much for the water pump to keep up with.
Filtered water dispenser next to the hand pump, yes we cleaned the sink just for this picture.
Filtered water dispenser next to the hand pump, yes we cleaned the sink just for this picture.


Engine room plumbing panel, the two house filters are circled in red.
Engine room plumbing panel, the two house filters are circled in red.

The Forward Head

In a previous post I explained that when we first arrived the forward head worked, but the aft head did not.  As luck would have it, almost as soon as we fixed the aft head, the forward head stopped working.  For those of you don’t know, a head is a toilet.  Google tells me this term comes from when the “bathroom” used to be at the head of the ship, over the front, directly into the water!

Now, the aft head was easy, because it had never been used, but the forward head….

Our shining Raritan PHII manual pump toilet (actual toilet not pictured)
Our shining Raritan PHII manual pump head (actual toilet not pictured)

Well, it had been used, quite a lot.  The fix was simple, but smelly.  The “joker valve” needed replacing, for one thing.  This is kind of like a one way valve, as you pump the handle waste goes out but does not come back in.  Over time this wears out, the result is that the suction stroke doesn’t suck as much “waste” out of the bowl as it should.

The other issue, and this was quite silly really, was that the thru-hull handle was in the wrong position.  A thru-hull is a fitting on the hull of the boat that opens and closes to control water entering or leaving the boat.  What I thought was open, was actually only partway open.  The result was toilet paper and “waste” clogged up in the opening.  I had to pull the hose off the thru-hull and clean the “waste” out by hand.  (I trust you know what “waste” is).

Somehow I always find myself in these hard to reach places...
Somehow I always find myself in these hard to reach places…

The Galley Light

We have these very nice LED lights all over the galley, nav station and saloon.  They are energy efficient, which is good for our batteries.  The galley light actually worked but the button in the switch was stuck.  This was slightly more complicated than just replacing the switch because it had circuitry in it to down-convert the voltage from 12V to whatever the light needs.  I wound up using a solder gun to soften the solder and remove the old push button switch, then installed a jumper cable across the contacts.

I'm learning that jury-rigging is an important skill, since we don't have money to buy new.
I’m learning that jury-rigging is an important skill, since we don’t have money to buy new.

I re-routed the 12V supply for the light through a new push-button switch, this one conveniently installed on the galley bulkhead.

New LED pushbutton switch installed.
New LED pushbutton switch installed.


Yes that is an actual pot of food, we didn't just stage it for the picture.
Yes that is an actual pot of food, we didn’t just stage it for the picture.

Upcoming projects:

  • Reprogram MMSI numbers in all the radios and the AIS
  • Install a gimbal lock on the stove
  • Mount the dinghy on the davits (our Portabote didn’t come with any attachment points)
The Bilge Pump Switch Adventure

The Bilge Pump Switch Adventure

Saying “adventure” always makes it sound like more fun right?  Well this wasn’t too much fun, but it was necessary, and I’m glad we got it fixed.  Remember back in this post when I mentioned the bilge pump switch not working?

The bilge is where the water collects in the bottom of the boat.  Ideally you don’t want too much water collecting down here on a day to day basis, but there are various parts of the boat that leak a little, some by design and some not.  Every boat has one of these, and there is a switch and a pump in the bottom of the bilge so that when the water gets high enough the pump kicks on and sends it outside the boat.

Here’s a highly sophisticated diagram of how the bilge is set up on our boat.  The squiggly line going into the bottom of the bilge (under the engine) is the switch and bilge pipe.  The actual pump is mounted up on the wall next to the engine.  As you can see, half of the assembly sits in the “impossible to reach” zone.  The bottom of the bilge is maybe 4 feet under the engine.


So this is a side profile of the bilge, but if you were to look at it head on it is very narrow at the bottom, maybe 8″ wide at most.

Most float switches are mounted to the bottom of the bilge and have an arm that floats up, like this.

Image result for bilge float switch
A typical bilge pump float switch.

However, since you can’t get anywhere close to the bottom of the bilge in our boat to mount a switch like this, the previous owner used a sump pump float switch.  This isn’t typically what you would see in a boat, but I like it, it’s simple and effective (and probably cheap too, since it’s not “marine”).  The entire plastic housing floats and there is a contact switch inside, as the bilge fills with water once the switch is close to vertical it activates the bilge pump, and as the water level goes down it turns it off.

Image result for sump pump float switch
A household sump pump float switch.

However, since the entire plastic casing floats, and seemed to float in whatever direction it wanted to, the float switch kept getting stuck against the sides of the bilge, either in the off (didn’t come on when it was supposed to), or on position (didn’t turn off when the bilge was dry).  This isn’t as disastrous as it sounds because we have a backup bilge pump that kicks on when the bilge is a little more full, but then where is the backup for the backup?

So to get it out, I had to snake the semi-rigid plastic tube out of the bilge in between the bottom of the boat and the bottom of the engine, which involved lots of hanging upside down.

Fixing the bilge pump switch
Playing in the engine room.

Once out, I zip tied a small piece of PVC tube to the assembly, at just the right spot so the bilge pump switch would rest against it.  My hope was that this would give the pump just enough tilt so that as the water rises in the bilge it will float up in the right direction.  I dropped the whole assembly back into the bilge, and hooked everything back up.

Bilge pump switch solution
PVC pipe zip tied to the bilge pump float switch / pipe assembly.

To test it, I used a water hose to fill the bilge a few times, everything seemed to function fine.  However I thought the current of the water rushing out of the hose might be affecting the results, so I turned it down to a trickle and ran it through 2 more On/Off cycles, after which I was satisfied.  It seems to be working so far, in the 5 or so days we’ve had it rigged up this way it has turned on and turned off at exactly the right times.