Fitness buffs: Not 1 new post but 71!

In order to streamline our web presence, and give Rebecca a more modern platform to write on, she and I spent much of the last week transferring all of the content from her StrengthPLUS blog to this site. Even though the content has been live ever since we started adding it, it’s unlikely that most of you would have stumbled across it.

StrengthPLUS

How to access the StrengthPLUS posts:

Although we may doctor the menus a bit in the coming days, to access the new posts today, click on the Shipshape link in the main menu. When you do so you’ll arrive on our recently-updated fitness cover page. If you mouse over that link, you’ll bring up a drop-down menu, and if you then click where it says Fitness, you’ll be able to access all of Rebecca’s health-and-fitness related blog posts.  Go ahead, try it!

There are, at present, 71 posts in that category, in which there are more videos than I even imagined. If you’re at all interested in fitness, please scan the posts at your leisure. If you have any questions for Rebecca, leave a comment on a relevant post. She promises that she’ll bend over backwards to reply, even if it does mean that she’ll need to take a break from working out for a moment or two. 🙂

Note: If you have StrengthPLUS.ca bookmarked, you should update your bookmark to this new link. All new content will be added here, and the old domain will eventually be going away.

When boats are dragging towards you, you’ve gotta have balls!

Our post yesterday about the boats getting tangled up together garnered a number of comments, both here, and on our Facebook page. One thing that I had intended on including in the post, but neglected to, is our planned first line of defense to a dragging boat: our balls!

Fender balls: not just for exercise!

Every day that we’re at anchor, we keep a large, white fender ball conveniently tied to the mast. We’ve done this on all three of the boats that we’ve lived on. Some people may assume that we keep the ball there so that it’s convenient for our workouts, and that’s true, we do use it for that. The fact is though, we keep it there so that it’s easy to deploy if we have an unplanned visitor in the form of a dragging boat. And when we went to our bow on Sunday morning to observe the drama going on around us, the first thing I did was untie that ball from mast so that it would be even quicker to put into action.

Bluewater Sailing magazine. February 2013.

A roving fender is a great tool to have at the ready when docking, if you have the crew to man it. When you’re at anchor with another vessel moving towards you, there’s not much else that your crew can do but try to push the other boat away. Since it’s dangerous to get body parts in between large vessels, especially when the wind is up, people need to be especially careful how they fend off. A big fender ball, or ever better, a couple of balls, in the hands of some motivated crew members, can go a long way towards minimizing damage.

Dragging drama: Too close for comfort

Although we have had boats drag into us on a few different occasions, we have managed to escape without injury to person or property. One particular bit of drama that we have fortunately been able to avoid is having another vessel get their anchor caught up in our rode. That situation particularly complicates dragging, as it runs the risk of setting both boats adrift. It is, as a matter of fact, the exact scenario that we got to witness yesterday, and in my opinion, the whole thing happened a bit too close to our boat for comfort.

I’m not sure why I popped up on deck yesterday morning. There wasn’t any loud yelling that I could make out, nor did I hear the sound of chain dropping, the noise that tends to draw cruisers around the world up from below (visualize a gopher popping his head out of his hole). Regardless of why I was lured outside, when I got to the cockpit, I was greeted by the sight of a catamaran that was far closer to us than it should have been.

Not what you want to see when you come up on deck!

I could see a woman on the bow of the cat, and a man at the port-aft helm. When he glanced in my direction, I extended my arms out to the sides in my best WTF gesture. He promptly started the boat moving forward, rapidly I should add, drawing in anchor chain as he went. I initially assumed that he’d simply lost his mind and had attempted to anchor where there wasn’t space. The situation turned out to be nowhere near that easy to remedy.

Apparently something is wrong.

With the cat moving away from us, I was then free to take in more of the big picture. I could see that the monohull that had been anchored off our port bow was now significantly closer to us than it had been when we’d gone to bed. I could also see the captain of that boat, in his dinghy, alongside his bow, fiddling with his anchor chain. With the catamaran now motoring directly at that boat, once again, rapidly, it became apparent what was going on. I wasn’t, at the time, sure how it had all unfolded, but it was obvious then that the two boats had their chains caught around one another. Not good, especially if they started dragging into us, or got their anchors wrapped up in our chain!

To judge the speed of the cat, take note of the prop wash.

Slow is Pro!

By this time Rebecca was aware of the drama, and she was beside me in the cockpit. Anticipating that we might have to fend off one or both of the boats, and also to get a better view of the situation as it unfolded, we moved forward to Frost’s bow. At my request, Rebecca popped back down below to retrieve our camera, and when she returned, I started recording the situation (pics and video are as good for insurance claims as they are for blog posts).

Not a situation you want to find yourself in!

Given the chance, we might have tried to raise our anchor and remove ourselves from the situation. Unfortunately, at the time most of the craziness was going on, the boats were right overtop of where we believed our anchor to be. We also would have been the first ones there in our dinghy to lend a hand if there hadn’t been the risk of both of those boats dragging down into us. With no ability to raise our anchor, and unwilling to leave our boat in case we were needed there, we sat there watching the crew of the monohull do their best to free the cat’s anchor from their chain.

The danger is that the monohull’s anchor could become dislodged, setting both boats adrift.

I can appreciate that situations like this are very tough, so I don’t want to be too judgmental of what went on, having only observed it from the relative safety of our bow. That said, the crew of the cat were not making things easy! There is a saying in boating, “Slow is Pro.” Apparently the captain had never heard that phrase before. I was actually quite concerned for the safety of the guys in the dinghies at a few times as the chain kept being drawn up tight by the super-fast reversing of the cat (a second person had, by then, shown up on scene to help). When the cat wasn’t going backwards abruptly, it was going forward too quickly, one time actually T-boning the monohull. I won’t say any more. You can watch the video to decide if what I wrote is fair.

Tips: 

  1. Slow is Pro! While some degree of speed is necessary to maintain directional control, mind your throttles when maneuvering around other people’s expensive boats!
  2. When in a similar situation, if you need to lift the chain or anchor to take weight off of it in order to free the tangle, avoid tying a line directly to it. Instead, run a bight of line under the chain (one end could be made fast to a bow cleat and the other led to a winch if necessary). In this way, when you have completed what you set out to do, you can simply release one end of the line and it will fall away. If you do need to tie the line, use a round turn and two half hitches instead of the venerable bowline as it can be more easily untied when loaded.

Looking for the land that knows nothing of the sea

Have you read Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey? I admit that I haven’t, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to tackle them. In spite of that, I have, however, for some time been familiar with the poem Ithaka which was reportedly inspired by the Odyssey. I first posted the poem back in 2010, and just last week posted a video with Sean Connery reading the poem. As the story goes, in the Odyssey the hero Odysseus is working to return to his home, Ithaka, after a decade away, fighting a long war. He is instructed to take an oar from his ship and to walk inland until he finds a “land that knows nothing of the sea,” a place where the oar would be mistaken for a winnowing fan. Winnowing? You can tell I’m not a farmer. I had to look that up too!

winnowing

win·now
verb – gerund or present participle: winnowing
1. blow a current of air through (grain) in order to remove the chaff.

Anyways, after finding this place that knows nothing of the sea, Odysseus is told to offer a sacrifice to Poseidon, and upon doing so, his journeys would be over. Sounds simple, right?

I wonder if our friends who have swallowed the anchor and moved ashore have done this. My guess is that they haven’t. While I find it hard to believe that anyone in this day and age could mistake an oar for anything other than what it actually is, I bet I could find at least one or two things on our boat that would be unknown to a non-sailor!

We leave our oars in the dinghy. We do not take them up on top of the mountains that we climb!

Goodbye DeLorme, Hello Garmin InReach Explorer

A little over a year ago I wrote a post describing some options for remaining connected when at sea, away from Wi-Fi, and away from cell service. Among those devices was the DeLorme InReach Explorer. Since the time that I first published that blog entry, I’ve read about countless cruisers using the devices to keep in touch. What I wasn’t aware of is that, at the beginning of 2016, the GPS giant Garmin acquired DeLorme.

What does that mean for the popular satellite communicators? Apparently Garmin’s take on the DeLorme device, the InReach Explorer, will soon hit the shelves. I’ve yet to attempt a side by side comparison of the devices but at first glance, they seem pretty similar. And if so, maybe this is the time to purchase one of the current models at a reduced price? Anyone with some intel on this should feel free to share. Old or new, it still looks like these devices are among the best options out there.

What’s your story, the most frequently asked question

A few days ago we were introduced to some fellow cruisers, and as is common during these initial meetings, we each shared our story. The story being, where did we come from, and how did we end up as water-based vagabonds. I realized after sharing our background that, in spite of what I’ve had listed on our FAQ page, that is really the most frequently asked question. As such, I decided to write the highlights of our story in a CliffsNotes-type summary.

Rebecca and me with of our coaches, Wagnney Fabiano, at gym in Kingston. Photo 2007.

While neither of us were born in Kingston, Ontario (Rebecca hails from a town in Ontario called Deep River, and I’m from a small city east of Kingston called Brockville), that’s where our journey together started out. It was in Kingston that we first met and fell in love, and also there that we made a living running a martial arts gym, a business that I operated since 1987.

Don’t drink and hot tub!

Our standard description for how we ended up on a boat is that we came up with the idea one night while sitting in our hot tub, after consuming 1 too many glasses of wine. While it’s true that we may have joked about the idea of cruising on a few occasions prior to that fateful evening, that really was when the actual decision to sell all of our stuff and go sailing was made. In fact, it was that same night that we came up with the idea of documenting our journey from non-sailors to cruisers, and if I recall correctly, we may have even registered the domain name for our website, Zero To Cruising, on that night too. That was October 2008.

Man, I miss this hot tub!

A couple of days after that turning point, we booked ourselves in for a 7-day learn-to-cruise crash course, mostly to solidify in our own minds that we’d actually enjoy the sailing thing. It’s important to note that neither of us had any experience to speak of at that time. We completed the lessons that we paid for over the Christmas holidays in 2008, and upon returning home to Kingston, immediately listed our house for sale.

Homeless!

As luck would have it, our house sold much more quickly than we had anticipated. We had an offer shortly after listing it for sale, and the deal closed not long after that. The months between the time that we returned home from our sailing course, and when we moved out of our house, were a whirlwind of activity. We spent almost every free minute boat shopping online, while simultaneously continuing to sell near everything that we owned. When the real estate deal ultimately closed, still with no boat, we found ourselves homeless. So, for the next four months, until we purchased our first vessel at the beginning of July 2009, we lived out of a closet in our gym. Yes, a 8’x8′ storage room, and we did so without letting anyone become the wiser!

Near everything we owned was stored in this closet. 

Selling our business, an entity that’s value was based largely upon the good will that Rebecca and I generated, was the toughest part of our transition to seafarers. It took a full year to find people suitable to take over, and to iron out the details of the transaction. So, while continuing to run the business, and later, helping with the transition of the gym to the new owners, we lived on board our newly purchased boat, a PDQ 32 catamaran.

From July 2009 until July 2010, minus the coldest winter months where we stored the boat on shore, we worked hard to polish our newly-acquired, but still very crude, sailing skills. At the end of July 2010, with only two friends to see us off, we left our home base, Collin’s Bay Marina, and set off across Lake Ontario to begin our journey south to the Caribbean. Since that pivotal morning, we’ve never looked back.

Casting off the lines to leave Canada, ready to head south. 

Red marks: Even numbered except in Martinique?

If you’re a boater there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard the expression red – right – returning, the mnemonic used to help sailors remember to keep the red channel marks on their starboard (right) side when returning to harbor. Of course, that only holds true in half the world, what is referred to as IALA region B. In the other half of the world, IALA region A, the exact opposite is true.

iala

There’s a less-common mnemonic that I was taught that related to leaving a harbor. It is Even the Nuns Left town. Nuns, the name given to the conically-shaped red channel markers, should remain on your left (port) side when leaving. Additionally, it reminds us that the red marks are even numbered, with their counterparts, the green cans (they have flat tops) being odd numbered. At least that’s supposed to be the way that it works.

Our friend Chris from LTD Sailing shared another way of remembering the numbering system: the green mark looks like a can of 7-UP, the soda. Green – Can – 7, an odd number. I like it!

Puzzling!

Earlier today, after returning from a road trip into Fort de France, I took note that the markers delineating the channel into Le Marin are numbered the exact opposite of what I just described, the red ones are odd numbered and the green ones are even. You can see that even the chart shows them that way (top image). Why? Je ne se pas, and believe me, I’ve searched for an explanation.

iala_a

In case you’re thinking it’s because Martinique acquired some leftover IALA A marks from France, that’s not it. Although the marks in Europe do switch sides, and even the shape of the red and green marks are reversed, the numbers stay the same, as this chartlet from La Rochelle, France shows.


Quiz time: A completely different mark

What is this red and white mark called, and what is it used for? Super bonus marks if you can tell me where I took the photo. Hint: It’s some place in the Windward Islands.

buoy

Leave no trace – Take your trash with you!

Eager to take advantage of the sunny skies, Rebecca and I went for a nice walk down the coast from St. Anne yesterday. On the way back from our 2-hour trek, we passed a couple of gentlemen heading in the opposite direction, and I greeted them with a pleasant bon jour, trying to hide just how tired my legs were as I did so. One of the men responded in kind, but the other didn’t as he was busy digging into a nice, big orange. To tell the truth, I could smell that juicy orange before we even reached them, and it smelled good! What was not so good was the fact that, after we passed them, I could see that the man had been discarding his orange peel onto the ground behind him.

Apparently that guy is not the only person who thinks that the haphazard disposal of organic waste is OK because we’ve come across orange and banana peels on some of the most remote trails, and on the peaks of several mountains. “What’s the problem,” you’re probably thinking? “It’s organic, it’ll biodegrade.

It’s not magic!

If you don’t see the problem, you must be one of the folks who think that decomposition is some sort of magical process that occurs near instantly. While I knew that wasn’t the case, and fully understood how tossing the waste on the ground was not the right thing to do, I wasn’t really sure just how long it would take. Well, Google to the rescue. Although I found a few conflicting reports, in the best case scenario, it takes weeks for a banana or orange peel to decompose. Worst case? Months or even years!

I don’t know about you but when I work hard for a couple of hours to get to some mountain peak that few people ever invest the effort to visit, I don’t want to come across a bunch of trash when I get there. I like to imagine that I’m the first to arrive there, and finding trash on site bursts my bubble.

smile

Please take me with you!

While most intelligent people wouldn’t consider leaving a bunch of plastic or styrofoam behind, it appears that some don’t fully see the problem with discarding their orange peels, and other organic waste into the nearby bushes. To be honest, I’ve even had to stop unaware friends from making this gros faux pas. Please people… don’t do this. As the saying goes, take only pictures and leave only footprints. If you packed it in, bring it out. And while you’re at it, if you see some plastic or other trash along the way, why not pick up a few pieces to help make the next hiker’s experience even better?

But I don’t hike!

Cruisers who don’t hike need to pay attention too. While tossing that orange peel overboard in the middle of the ocean may be OK, the last thing I want to see in my anchorage is the trash from the upwind boat floating by us. And yes, orange peels do float!

In spite of how preachy this post may sound, I will admit that I have been guilty of this sin in the past, tossing apple cores into the woods instead of packing them out. After writing this, I commit to trying harder to ensure that I really do leave no trace.

Brewing Coffee, the Nectar of the Gods

Let’s tackle a very serious subject: brewing coffee. Tea drinkers, with their convenient little baggies, will never know the challenges that coffee drinkers have to go through to obtain their beverage of choice. And land dwellers may also be unaware of the difficulties that cruisers have to go through each day. So today’s question is, what is your preferred method for brewing, what we have been known to refer to as, the Nectar of the Gods?

underway

Morning beverage on Two Fish as we approach the Galapagos.

What we don’t do:

Let’s start with what we don’t do. In spite of my comment yesterday about running the generator to brew a cup of coffee, we do not use an electric coffee maker! We did, on the charter cat, to satisfy up to eight crew and guests, but we also fired up the generator every single day, first thing after getting up, and kept it running for hours on end. If your morning routine is to run your gen set, you can take advantage of this luxury.

It’s worth noting that when we purchased the Bunn coffee maker for the charter cat, we did so with the promise that it could brew a pot in 3 minutes. After getting it back to the boat, we learned that the manufacturer’s assurance was only partially true. It was able to do that if it had been left plugged in with power, keeping a reservoir of water heated to the proper temperature. This is easy to do in a house with 24/7 electricity running to every wall socket. On a boat, that only gets AC power when the generator is running, or the inverter is turned on, it’s not quite so efficient.

Another thing we don’t use are the single-serving Keurig machines. They work on the same principle that I described above, and thus have all the same shortcomings for a boater. Unless they are used with a refillable cup, they also produce a horrendous amount of trash. Believe it or not, there is a store here in Martinique that sells nothing but those machines, and coffee pods. There are literally walls and walls of them!

Before I describe what we do use to make a cup of coffee, I should confess that neither Rebecca nor I are connoisseurs. We’re not particularly picky about the coffee grounds that we use, and we don’t grind our own beans. We drink our coffee black, and as long as it’s strong, we’re generally satisfied.

Boater friendly coffee options:

Presently, our standard method for brewing coffee is to use a French Press, similar to this one. We scoop some coffee grounds into it, boil some water, cover the grounds, and in 10 minutes or so, we’re presented with a few cups of coffee goodness.

While visiting with some new friends on their cat, they showed us the Aeropress that they use each day. It essentially works the same way, but in a nice streamlined package. It looks perfect for a boater!

When I last wrote about coffee, someone mentioned the Melitta pour-over coffee maker. We don’t have one now, but have used one in the past. I think it’s also something that could work quite well for a boater, or a traveller.

We also have on hand a few little single-serving coffee baggies, like tea bags. They work exactly as how you’d imagine. Throw one in a cup, cover with water, and let them sit. We don’t use them on a regular basis but they’re nice to have around as a backup.

single

Single serving bags, du Martinique!

Frost also came with a pretty nice old-school percolator-type Espresso maker, not unlike this one. It works by some sort of magic that I haven’t yet tried to figure out. It does make pretty tasty Espresso, something that I often enjoyed after dinner, before my doctor told me to cut back on caffeine (the horror).

If you’re a cruiser, or traveller, I’d love to hear what you use to brew coffee. As for you tea drinkers, just keep giving thanks that your daily routine is so much more simple.

Generator: early morning or late in the day?

Late in the day yesterday, as the sun dipped ever closer to the horizon, I knew that the gamble I had made had not paid off. The gamble being, would the input from our green energy sources, our solar panels and our wind generator, be enough to top up our batteries so that they would remain happy and healthy overnight. As we began the day with them fairly depleted, I was doubtful that they would, but decided to chance it anyway. Ultimately admitting my defeat, I fired up our diesel generator and ran our battery charger. Before too long, all was well again. This act started me thinking though: do most people run their generator in the early morning, or late in the day?

Early morning:

With refrigeration running throughout the night, and no input from solar panels to combat that, most often the battery bank of a cruising sailboat is at its lowest in the morning. Battery chargers tend to work very well when the bank is depleted, but taper off their charging rate as the state of charge increases. By running the generator, and thus the battery charger in the morning, you can take advantage of the quicker bulk charging rate. As the bank gets more fully charged, and the battery charger slows down, it often makes sense to turn it off and let the solar panels take over. By this time, the sun is usually high enough in the sky so they can start to work.

Late in the day:

Of course, if you opt not to run the generator in the morning, you could find that your green charging sources might do the job for you, and that you won’t have to run the generator at all. This has actually been the situation for us for the past couple of weeks*. The combination of our admittedly meager solar panels (only 200W), and our wind generator (Aerogen 6), has made running the diesel gen set unnecessary. It’s worth noting that the Christmas Winds have really been helping with this!

wind

How do you know when your batteries are depleted enough that they require charging? Should you go by voltage, or state of charge? Read this post, and more importantly the comments on it, if you are unsure. For the record, I now follow an either-or philosophy… if the battery monitor shows the bank at 12.2V OR close to 50% SOC, I start the generator.

Just out of curiosity, I posed this question on Facebook last night:

Assuming you don’t wake up with a very low battery bank, are you more likely to run your generator in the early morning, or at the end of the day? And why?”

As I guessed it might be, the answers were split almost 50/50. It seems some were of the opinion to use the battery charger to it’s fullest and let the solar do the rest, whereas others liked to gamble a bit as I have been know to.

For the record, I know that there are other reasons which may influence when someone chooses to run the generator. For those who like to use an electric coffee maker, or a microwave in the morning, that might prompt them to fire up the gen set. Those who like to run air conditioning in the evenings might be more inclined to wait until later in the day to turn on the generator. The use of watermakers that run off a generator may also influence this. It’s worth noting that on the charter boat we worked on, like most of our friends in the industry, we ran the generator a lot. In fact, we knew folks who ran their generator more than 20 hours per day!

So, what should you do? I don’t have a definite answer. There is logic to both strategies. I suspect I’ll continue to do as I’ve always done, and decide on a day-by-day basis. As for today, starting off with a pretty good state of charge, a clear sky, and a brisk wind blowing, I’m gambling that I won’t have to run it at all!

sunset

*Even though we didn’t need to run our generator for 2 weeks, I still fired it up at least once during that period to make sure that it would still run. If there is one thing that I have learned it is that things on a boat do not like to remain idle. If you want it to run, you need to use it!