Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Almost caught up - now in Colon, Panama

I think we will finally be able to send out these blog entries. I am writing this at anchor in ‘The Flats’ in Colon, Panama. We are waiting for someone to come to measure us to determine how much our toll is to transit the Canal. After that we need to pay for the toll (along with a buffer fee in case we break the Canal or slow it down). This will be $1600 in total and we should get half back at some point. After payment we can talk to the Scheduler to find out when we can go through to the Pacific.

This is our chartplotter as we approached Colon, Panama. We are the little black boat at the bottom, all of the triangles are ships. The Canal is at the top left. It really is a busy place.


Back to where we left off with the last entry, in Kuna Yala. While we were there we experienced the heaviest rains ever recorded in Panama – which is saying something since this is a rain forest. Over a period of nine days (two of which were sunny), we had something like 25 to 30 inches of rain. There was so much rain that the Canal was closed for a day – only the third time it has been closed since it opened for business in 1914 (landslide in the '20s and the US invasion a number of years ago). Unfortunately quite a few people were killed in the flooding and by landslides in various places. Three sailboats and a freighter were also lost in this time. We were perfectly safe in one of the most secure anchorages in the area at a large town (3000) called Nargana. There was not very much to do and supplies of vegetables ran out in the tiny stores. Also the boat was incredibly damp and everyone was complaining on the morning radio net about new leaks in their boat.

Things to do when it rains for a week or more. June sewed courtesy flags for the Pacific. This one is the Cook Islands. It started life as a British red ensign. The rest of the red ensign became part of the flag of Tonga. We have a source of really cheap courtesy flags ($US 2) but they do not have all the small countries.


While we were in Nargana the big news was a drug bust. There are many itinerant trading boats that pass through KY buying coconuts (25 cents each) from the Indians and bringing in all the stuff sold in the stores. One of these was found with 900 kg of cocaine on board. Perhaps the find was related to the fact that the army had 300 soldiers in town for training exercises. The soldiers were all over town enjoying the good life (better than patrolling the Panama-Colombia border – one month on and one month off) but always had their weapons with them ranging from rifles to a variety of machine guns.

This is the cocaine boat. It is typical of the Colombian trading vessels in KY. The soldiers are unloading flour, rice and other things that were used to hide the coke. These trade goods were distributed in Nargana - seems like a good way to get a tip about the next cocaine boat.


Other KY happenings:

- We explored the Rio Diablo by dinghy before the rains started. That was a fun morning. The Kunas have farm plots along the river in the jungle where they grow coconuts, bananas, and I assume low plants that we could not see from the boat. There also were small cemetery sites along the water. This makes sense since there is no land to waste on the residential islands. We towed one gentleman upstream since paddling one of these dugout canoes is pretty slow. There was tremendous erosion along the river during the rains as the entire bay turned a red-brown colour. I assume some people lost parts of their ‘farms’ as they were right next to the water in most cases.

- We bought a mola from the most famous of the mola makers –Lisa Harris (btw, that name is not at all Kuna in origin – I suspect it came from a book or a movie). Lisa is not only famous for her molas; she is also the most prominent Kuna transvestite. Transvestites are apparently common and not looked down upon in this matriarchal culture. She dressed well and had good makeup and hairstyle, but hands like a stevedore.



-JJune and master mola maker, Lisa, with the mola we bought. June is on the left.

una are the second smallest group of people in the world after the Pygmies. Men are often around 5 feet or a little more and women are often less than 5 feet. Their two most popular games are basketball and volleyball in a country were baseball and soccer are king but there just is not enough room for these sports on their little islands. We met a delightful 74 year old named Sammy who went to college in Oklahoma to play basketball and later was on the Panamanian national basketball team. He was about 5’4” so I suspect not a power forward.

- Had a strange experience on a remote island. A family paddled up in their dugout canoe and asked if we could charge their two cell phones. The cell coverage is very good but only a few of the larger islands have electricity.


Next time, Colon, the Canal, and Panama City.

Second delayed post (should be Nov 27th)

And now to a second posting at the same time … In the last post I mentioned that we would be staying George Town for a few days to get ready to push south. Well, as Desi used to say to Lucy (for those old enough to remember what I am referring to) there is some ‘splaining to do. On our second morning in Georgetown we listened to Chris Parker’s weather forecast and John and I came to the same conclusion within minutes. We either left GTown now or we could be there for 10 days or more waitingather to improve as there was a large cold front heading our way. The decision was made about 9 am and we agreed on a 1 pm departure which gave us only a bit of time to do some necessary shopping and get Fred off to the airport for his flights to Tampa. The plan was to go directly to

The weather that was coming was also going to mean that we had to keep going since the anchorages further south were either untenable in north winds or were protected but would not allow you to exit until winds and swells died down. A key choke point was to get through the Windward Passage, between Haiti and Cuba, before winds and seas built up there – the day after we passed through the Passage the forecast was for 35 knots sustained so we wanted to be further south by then.

Our trip south was most enjoyable. We did 958 miles in just under 7 days so we were not hurrying for sure. We were on a broad reach the entire way and used only the genoa for most of the trip. Morley, the Monitor vane steering was wonderful and conditions were quite enjoyable with winds usually around 20 knots true with no squalls to speak of. This was our longest passage so far with just two of us board and it proved to be not too stressful which bodes well for the future. We only had one mechanical problem. We had to replace the fuel filters since some crud had gotten lose in the tank and the filters (at least the primary) was getting nasty-looking (it has a clear bowl so you can see how you are doing. I decided to replace the secondary too as it was getting close to its 200 hours in any case. This is a pretty straightforward job, except that after the replacement I had a tiny leakage of air into the bottom of the Racor filter that I could not stop with any of the standard means. With a diesel fuel system there can be no air getting in so ended up having to goop over the bottom of the filter entirely. I think we will have to get a new Racor in Panama City in a month or so – this setup will work and I can replace the filter element as needed. Also, I will be draining whatever crud and water I can from the bottom of the fuel tanks. I am very pleased that our tanks have a drain even if one is very hard to reach.

We are now in the San Blas Islands (Kuna Yala to the local Indian tribe). They extend from about 40 miles east of the Panama Canal to the Colombian border. The islands themselves are quite tiny but often have extensive reefs and sandbanks around them. The mainland behind the islands is mountainous rainforest, with the Pacific really not that far away as the crow flies. The inhabited islands are often jammed with small houses. The Kuna people seem very nice but they are always looking for ways to make a buck from the cruisers here – ranging from selling fish and vegetables to ‘molas’ which are stitched embroidery panels usually with stylized birds and fish to unfortunately begging for whatever they can get.

There is even a tiny island which has a bar on it. They have a generator and a big satellite dish and were showing the Thanksgiving game between Dallas and New Orleans (in Spanish) in HD – says something about culture, technology, and globalization – I just have to figure out what it is. To add an environmental wrinkle, the island is at most one foot above sea level and is disappearing (global warming and erosion) – a big part of the island which was dry land last year is now a few inches under water at high tide. We were at the bar for a pot luck which included turkey, stuffing, and sweet potato pie – a southern US Thanksgiving south of 10N.

We will be in the San Blas until around December 15th before heading slowly toward the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal at Colon. These islands are a highly-regarded cruising ground and I will say more (and have pictures) later. We hope to post this at the bar mentioned previously (they have internet service but it is apparently quite slow.)

A final apology for not keeping the blog up – it was the result of moving faster than expected and not having internet access when we were stopped, for example in Florida we did not have internet in the harbour area.

BTW, we found out that Ainia, in the language of the Kuna Indians means “I am the Devil”. Long way from the Chinese meaning.

So this is the Internet - 1Laundry

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Mea Culpa, mea culpa! I have not restarted this blog and we are now on the move again.

Just to catch up. We returned to the boat in Fort Pierce in mid-October by rental car. Flying was not an option since we had collected so much valuable stuff (ie junk) over the summer. We did not rush south and made it a bit of an American history tour with visits to Gettysburg, Williamsburg, and Charleston. The Americans certainly do a terrific job of preserving and presenting their history and we enjoyed all of these visits. Charleston was new to me (they were all new to June) and seemed to be a lovely spot – at least in the downtown area.

When we got back to Riverside Marina in Fort Pierce we had lots of work to do. First thing was to put everything back together since we had stripped the deck to prepare for any possible hurricanes, not to mention the strong Florida summer sun. We also had to figure out how to use our storage space more effectively than we did last year. To be fair, Ainia has a huge amount of storage space, at least for small and medium sized things. In our first year’s cruising we did not use our space that effectively but this was not a problem since we our space exceeded our stuff. This year that was not the case as we had a lot more to store – in particular, lots of foodstuffs to prepare for the long passages and poor shopping in the Pacific. This organizational process took quite a long time.

We also had several significant projects to do. These included installing a new shower system in the forward head (the entire shower compartment in the aft head has become storage only for several large plastic storage boxes of food, backpacks, and the asymmetric spinnaker when we have visitors (without visitors this sail lives on the forward berth). We even disconnected the shower fitting in the aft head so it could not get turned on by movement of things stored there (ask me how I know about that problem). We also installed two new pumps – one for the pressure water system and one large bilge pump.

The big job was installing new standing rigging and new lifelines. We decided to have the rigger swage the fittings on the upper end of each piece of wire with the final measurements being done by us with Hayn Hi-Mod fittings on the bottom. This is all done except for one of the upper shrouds. The shroud is held onto the end of the spreader by a cap held in place by two bolts. I got one out (and the two on the other spreader) with PB Blaster (a penetrating oil designed for this sort of problem) and have left the other for the time being to see if it will loosen up with the other bolt out. If that does not work I may to cut the current shroud at the spreader and either pull out the rest or, worst case, drill it out. This would all be a big job working 30 feet in the air. Doing the rigging with the mast up meant going up and down many times in the bosun’s chair and we found a good way to do it. We replaced one of the spinnaker halyards with a longer piece if line that we are able to lead through two very large blocks to the electric anchor windlass. This setup, along with a second halyard as a safety line and a comfy bosun’s chair made the task relatively simple and saved us a couple of thousand dollars compared to having the whole job done by the rigger.

From Fort Pierce we went down the ICW for two short days to Lake Worth w (West Palm Beach) here people traditionally wait for a ‘weather window’ for crossing to the Bahamas. Here we met Fred Cashin, another Whitby YC member who was joining us for a couple of weeks and John and Marina on Kailani, a PDQ Antares 44 catamaran. They are from Victoria BC and will be sailing with them to Panama. We waited for the right window – and we waited – for a week of north winds with reports of waves in the Gulf Stream of up to 22 feet. We finally had a brief opening and off we went. We did an overnight all the way to Nassau to check into Customs ($300, ouch) and spent the night anchored at a little island just outside Nassau. In the days that followed we had terrific weather for a leisurely trip down the Exumas to George Town,’s with stops at Norman’s Cay (famous for its sordid history as the major transhipment point for cocaine from Colombia going to the US in the 1970s and 1980s), Warderick Wells (Exuma Park), and Staniel Cay (swimming pigs and Thunderball Cave). The latter two spots are described in more detail in an earlier posting.



Laundry - Ainia style - hi-tech compared to last year. (Yes, that is a dollar store plunger in the bucket.)

We arrived in George Town last night and will spend some time here since it is the last spot with any sort of decent provisioning for the next month or so. We also have to keep an eye out for the weather to come. Depending on the conditions we may go directly from here to the San Blas islands in Panama or we may stop a number of times in the southern Bahamas (what the charts call the Far Bahamas). Right now conditions do not look good for either since we have south winds now (we are going south) with a front coming that will bring quite strong north winds. In the fullness of time …

Friday, October 1, 2010

Trouble in Ecuador - updated Oct 4

It is still more than three months until we are scheduled to be in Ecuador, but it is a little disquieting to hear today about the troubles in Ecuador. Depending on who you listen to it is either a violent labour dispute or an attempted coup. What is known is that police have rioted over the government's attempt to reduce the benefits they receive. The army is behind the president, who seems very popular and has a great deal of support from other Latin American countries. I suspect this will die down fairly quickly but you never know.

The picture is interesting since we are used to seeing police on one side of the line and rioters on the other (for example at G20 and WTO meetings). Here it is the police who are the rioters and ordinary citizens who are supporting the government and the president on the other.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Getting closer to departure - at least by car!


Sorry ... for not posting much over the summer, but there was not much to say that would be of interest to anyone. Now it is starting to feel like time to head back to the boat from Mississauga (Great White North just outsideToronto for those from other than Canada). We have had a few cool days, although today is very warm and summery; but the leaves are turning so it must be fall (and I guess technically it is). Hard to imagine that more than five months have passed since we put Ainia away for h******** season (we don't use that word). Lucky so far, but there is still more than a month to go in that nasty season.

We have been working on how to best (and most cheaply) get to Florida from here - especially with the bunch of stuff that we have collected over the summer. Not sure how it will all fit in the boat since there was not much space open when we left. I think we can pack more efficiently though so I am sure we will be OK. We have been trying to get one of the driveaway cars - where you take a car to Florida for someone who is wintering there but does not want to drive there themselves. There are at least a couple of services here that arrangesuch trips but no luck - I think it is just too soon in the season. I think that late October through December would be much easier. We were considering flying and shipping all the stuff but are leaning towards renting a car one-way. It is a bit of a hassle since there are no one-way rentals starting in Canada so we will have to get a ride to Buffalo. The price is not too bad since I think the rental companies also want to move vehicles south. We will take the opportunity to be tourists and visit some of the sights on the way including Gettysburg and Williamsburg. Likely leave here around October 10th and take 5 to 6 days for the journey.

Summer preps -- There have been an astonishing number of things to do over the summer to get ready for a year away before we might fly back to Canada. These fall into two main categories: doing necessary house maintenance here (electrical work, painting, etc) and getting ready for the trip. The latter are obviously more interesting so here is an overview of some of the things we have done.

Medical - We have taken the opportunity to do general checkups, along with special tests on eyes, digestive systems and the like. For Bruce, a really big one was eye surgery. I have slowly been developing cataracts (to go with my glaucoma and generally lousy eyesight) which did not require attention yet but the eye specialist suggested the possibility of getting the cataracts fixed with special, multi-focal lenses that would fix my severe short-sightedness. Quite amazing since I no longer have to wear glasses for short or long distances (after 50+ years of wearing them). June has been working on diet and Chinese medicine remedies to address her cholesterol problem without taking medicines that can have serious side effects. Will know how it has worked out next week when she gets the results checked.

The other set of medical issues dealt with the trip itself. We researched online and visited a travel health clinic to consider our responses to a number of potential problems: malaria (parts of Panama, Ecuador/Peru, and some of the far western islands in the Pacific), dengue fever (lots of places), altitude sickness (Peru) and yellow fever (parts of Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. This resulted in two vaccines (yellow fever and typhoid), a few prescriptions and a lot of information about avoiding mosquitoes (malaria, dengue, and yellow fever are all carried by different mosquitoes with different lifestyles such as time of day to worry about).

Travel Requirements - A major concern is bureaucracy. Every country has its particular set of rules. For example, in some places you have to employ an agent to do the check in for you (in comparison, in the French islands in the Caribbean you sit down at a computer and do it yourself -often for free). In French Polynesia you can only stay for 90 days without getting what amounts to a French residency visa. This is a bit of a problem since FP is very lovely and immense with many places to visit. Also, you have to put a bond here to insure that you will leave - it amounts to the cost of a one-way ticket from Tahitito your own country (in our case to Vancouver) for each person. This would amount to more than $4000 and you get it back but it is complicated. In the Galapagos you can only stay for 21 days without spending literally several thousand dollars in fees. The Panama Canal has its own set of issues. The agent's fee is more than $500 and there are fees for everything including fumigation (they don't actually fumigate your boat, they just charge a fee for a fumigation certificate). It seems that major parts of the economies in Spanish-speaking countries, are administrative busy work.

Travel Planning -Much more enjoyable is planning the trip and finding out why we absolutely must visit places that we had never heard of such as Suwarrow (many spellings are used) Atoll in the Cook Islands http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suwarrow . The result is our plan to go backpacking in Ecuador/Peru and visit some of the tiny atolls in the Pacific. We have four Lonely Planet guides along with several cruising guides.

Navigation - A related research need has been preparing for trip navigation. We rely on both electronic charting and paper charts (for redundancy and because I am somewhat old-fashioned in my geographic sensibilities). In some ways this turned out to be easier and cheaper than I feared it might be. We used Navionics electronic charts and their Gold series charts cover huge areas, albeit without the goodies of the Platinum charts like air photos and 3d underseas images. One Gold chart (a bit less than $300) covers almost all of the South Pacific). We were able to buy a set of paper charts (almost 130 of them) that cover virtually all of the islands of the Pacific as well as the coast of South America as far south as Peru for about $350. They are not up-to-date but will do fine as backups and for keeping track of where we are.

A major concern for navigation, in particular in areas like the Tuamotus, is that these areas are not well-surveyed. A fair number of charts will say something like, "From French surveys of 1883", while many areas were last surveyed during World War II. Many of these surveys are known to be out by at least half a nautical mile. Hence you want to have every other resource you can find from cruising guides to Google Earth images of islands to the blogs of other cruisers - many hours went into finding all of these.

Stuff! - Finally a lot of time went into looking after all of the minutiae that will make the trip more enjoyable. One example is that a couple who did the backpack trip in Peru said you must have ear plugs since they play the music so loud. I can appreciate this since similar conditions existed on the minibuses in Lesotho that I used a lot when I was there. The volume was way beyond what the speakers were designed for so it was very nasty, but there the trips were at most an hour - some of the ones in Peru will be many hours -so time was spent on finding the little package of ear plugs we now have. June has been spending many hours loading music and audiobooks onto our IPOD. We found in the Caribbean that an IPOD was a wonderful tool for the midnight to 4 am watch under the stars.

Bruce spent quite a few hours studying for a HAM radio license. This will prove handy in the Pacific where many of the cruiser webs seem to use HAM frequencies. The material for the exam (100 multiple choice questions) was not terribly hard but there was a great deal of it to learn - much of it to amateur radio enthusiasts who set up their own systems, antennas and the like. For those of us who have a commerical radio/tuner setup and a fixed (backstay) antenna it would not be of much help - but I can tell you a bit about the Radiocommunications Act and how impedance is calculated (at least until I forget it, which may be sooner than later I fear).


Our Route
We did a Google Earth of our approximate route to New Zealand. It is a bit intimidating I must say since it is really half of the Earth's circumstance. You can see it better in GE where you can zoom and scroll but this overview is pretty neat too. We will be starting in Florida which is just off the image (on the other side of the world!) in the upper right corner and finishing just off the image in the lower left corner. Different parts of the trip are shown in different colours which show up much better on a full screen in GE.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tentative Schedule for Ainia, late 2010-early 2012 v. 1.1

I thought that those reading the blog would like to know what our plans are for the fall and next year. I put it all into a table to make it easier to follow. The plans seem quite precise with all of these dates, but they really are not. Within the constraints of government restrictions (eg only 90 day visa in French Polynesia), if we like where we are we will stay longer. if not we will move on to the next stop.


We will be following the standard 'coconut milk run' except for the rather large detour to Ecuador and then heading to Easter Island and Pitcairn from the Galapagos. This means that we will enter French Polynesia from the southeast (Tuamotus) rather than northeast (Marquesas). It means that our longest passage will be around two weeks rather than three+ weeks if we went from Panama to the Marquesas (with a stop in Galapagos)


I will post more later about some of the research and preps we have been doing to get ready for this.

From

To

Voyage (d)

Anchor (d)

Comments

Fort Pierce, FL (Nov 1)

San Blas Islands, Panama (Dec 2)

12

20

Visits to Keys and/or Cuba; likely; AN 117B1; possible stop in Cayman Islands or we will go the other way around Cuba AN 114 and spend some time in the Bahamas and likely stop in Jamaica

San Blas

San Blas (Dec 20)

18

San Blas

Panama City (Pacific side of country) (Jan 3)

14 (total)

Includes Canal transit and major provisioning; problems over Christmas week?

Panama

Bahia, Ecuador (Jan 11)

8

May include coastwise along coast of Panama; elements of PT 11 and PT 12 2

Bahia

Bahia (Feb 20)

40

Boat kept on mooring at Puerto Amistad; Land ‘cruise’ in Ecuador and (mainly) Peru including Machu Picchu 3; provisioning before departure

Bahia

Galapagos (Feb 25)

5

elements of PT 11 and PT 12

Galapagos

Galapagos (March 12)

15

Likely using local excursion boat for touring4

Galapagos

Easter Island (March 26)

14

PS 12

Easter Island

Easter Island (April 2)

7

As anchoring conditions allow5

Easter Island

Pitcairn Island (April 10)

8

PS 15

Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island (April 13)

3

As anchoring conditions allow6

Pitcairn Island

Mangareva, Gambier Islands, French Polynesia (April 15)

2

PS 16

TBD

TBD (somewhere in Fiji)

~ 200 days from French Polynesia to 7; likely stops include Cook Islands and Niue; without much hassle and considerable cost, the visa in FP is only good for 90 days so we will spend the extra time further west

Fiji

Northern New Zealand (Nov 10)

9

PS 488

Notes:

  1. These plans are tentative as to specific dates at any stage.
  2. Sailing times are based on typical conditions likely in the specific area and tend to be pessimistic, ie Ainia can be expected to do better than most of these so there will be more time at anchor and for local cruising.
  3. Route to French Polynesia via South America, Galapagos, Easter Island, Pitcairn and Gambier was chosen because it breaks down the long distance from Panama to French Polynesia (Marquesas) 3790 nm into more manageable chunks and allows visits to a number of very interesting locales. It also goes to less visited parts of French Polynesia, rather than Marquesas which seem, according to some accounts, somewhat overwhelmed by cruising boats.

Footnotes

1 These designations refer to routes in Cornell’s book, World Cruising Routes (we have 4th ed)

2 I considered the possibility of coastwise cruising along the coast of Colombia as well but it may be too dangerous; we may stay a hundred miles or so offshore. I will be making further enquiries.

3 This is the not the ideal time to visit Ecuador and Peru since it is the rainy season but there is no alternative other than adding an extra year to the voyage. We will be traveling the Lonely Planet way using buses and staying in less costly hotels. In general, touring here is very inexpensive.

4 Galapagos are easier to visit than in recent years where you would have to plead an ‘emergency’ to get to stay for more than 48 hours. Still there are only two ports open. If you want to cruise to other places in the (surprisingly large) island group you need to hire an approved naturalist/guide and spend a lot of money (more!) on an agent. In general, everything there is quite pricey.

5 Easter Island has one small harbour which may not be available and rapidly changing weather can mean that you have to move quickly from one side of the island to another if anchoring.

6 Pitcairn has extremely marginal anchorage conditions (at best). Some cruisers who visit are not able to get ashore at all.

7 The possibilities in this nearly seven months are huge and will require much more research.

8 Some people keep their boats in Fiji for the cyclone season but New Zealand is much safer and sounds like a lovely place to visit. Also it is a great place to get any work done that is needed on the boat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Weather Sources

Like most sailors, having some advance knowledge of the weather is, at least, nice and, at most, vital to one's safety. The latter was best shown by our experience with a soon to be huge low-pressure area that developed off the Maryland coast when we were going from the Chesapeake to St. Thomas. Before we left I monitored the weather carefully for almost a week looking for the right conditions for our departure. We needed winds other than from the north to northeast for at least 36 hours so that we could get across the Gulf Stream (even fairly moderate winds blowing into the current can be dangerous) and we, of course, wanted to avoid gale conditions. Ainia is a heavy, powerful vessel so I did not mind a good blow though (up to 25 knots+ sustained is fine).

As it turned out there was a very narrow window that suited our departure. The previous days had had NE winds so were a no go; boats that left the day after we did ended up with gale conditions for 48 hours and ended up going into Bermuda to lick their wounds. One of these boats was still in Bermuda more than a week later waiting for suitable conditions to keep going. Once we were gone the weather forecast further informed what we did. The low was forecast to move northward and only a little eastward and deepen greatly. In fact, within four days it was centered at the southern tip of Greenland with a central pressure of 982 mb (similar to that of a minor hurricane). A cold front built from Greenland to Cuba. Since I knew that nastiness was building to the north, I made the tactical decision that we should push southeasterly as hard as we good - for example, by not taking in a precautionary reef before nightfall. It all worked well and we got south in a hurry and quite safely.

Weather resources we used
There are many resources available depending on whether you are offshore or just moving around in the Caribbean. For most you need as SSB radio or at least a good shortwave receiver (ie a receiver with a good antenna setup) Those we used were:
  • "Herb" - Herb Hilgenberg is a legend in cruising circles. A former cruiser himself, his hobby is to provide detailed, personal forecasts to cruisers across much of the North Atlantic. He works out of his house in Burlington, Ontario and uses shortwave (SSB) to communicate with boats at 2000 hrs Zulu (GMT) each day. The first day you contact him he wants to know your location and destination. Sometimes he wants to know the met conditions where you are (eg wind speed and direction, sea state, etc). After that he tracks you. After he knows which boats are calling in he will go through the 'fleet' from north to south and give you your weather and often suggestions on routing to avoid bad stuff and take best advantage of good stuff. I found it helpful to listen to reports and forecasts for other boats to get a better sense of the big picture.
  • Weather fax - A wide range of North Atlantic weather products are broadcast by the US government from stations in Boston (areas further north) and New Orleans (areas further south). These include current conditions, wind and sea state predictions, and 5oo mB charts for a variety of times eg 24 hours, 48 hours, up to 96 hours in some cases. There are not very detailed and you have to listen at the right time to get the right chart (one chart typically takes about five minutes or so to be received. To get these you need to have a SSB or other shortwave radio, a computer and appropriate software (like JVComm that I have mentioned), along with the schedule and frequencies. A couple of years ago the government was going to end this service, thinking it was obsolete, but relented in the face of huge opposition. Similar weather fax services can be found throughout much of the world.
  • Chris Parker - Parker offers the main weather service used throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. He broadcasts from his home in Florida on various frequencies at various times in the morning (you have to experiment a bit to see which one is best where you are). You can subscribe to his service (something like $150/yr I think) and this allows you call him and ask for advice on the best day to go from A to B. Many people just listen in though. He starts with an overview and then listens in for subscribers. We did not subscribe and usually found that someone wanted to make a similar trip to where we were going. His reports are very detailed and tend to be quite conservative - which is good for a marine weather guy I think! He also reports on wave conditions. This is important because large northerly swells are common in the Caribbean in the winter. These are created by storms that could be 1000 miles away. You could be sitting in a protected anchorage wanting to sail 50 miles to the next island. There might have been no strong winds for a week where you are - so you might think the conditions ideal for your passage until you find 10' swells from some distant storm. I think if I was spending another winter in the Caribbean I might subscribe to Parker's service because it is a good one.
  • Passageweather.com - If you have internet access this is a very handy site. It gives wind and wave forecasts several days ahead in much of the world. The information is in GRIB form and you have to do your own interpretation of where the frontal systems are though. Forecast periods in the near-term are quite short and you almost animate the maps to see what will happen to wind strengths and wave heights. Note that all of the weather fax charts are also available online.
  • Miscellaneous weather sources - Depending on where you are there might also be weather available from local cruiser webs on VHF, SSB webs (for example in the Bahamas where Parker's reception was a bit iffy), or even from island broadcast stations on AM or FM. The quality of these forecasts varied widely
We did not use a custom weather routing service. These tend to be very good and very costly too. The Caribbean 1500 boats that left Norfolk about six hours before we did got forecasts from one of these services and they were told to ignore the customary wisdom that you head pretty much east to 65*W before turning south. Many of these boats went straight down the rhumb line to their destination and had exceptionally rapid trips. This routing worked because the massive depression we had destroyed the normal trade wind pattern below about 25*N.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some More on Sailing 'Software'

In an earlier posting I mentioned how useful an AIS system was to us, along with our happiness with JVComm, the software we used to get weather faxes. Here I would like to mention a few other navigational and related items that we had with us.

Navionics Gold electronic charts - These were fine as long as you used them intelligently - electronic charts of any sort do have their limitations. On the plus side, we only needed two chart cartridges to go from the Canada/US border into the Pacific through Panama. This is enormously better from 2000 when I considered getting a chart plotter for my Niagara 35 and would have needed almost $2000 in cartridges just to go from Nova Scotia to Lake Ontario.

I am a paper chart kind of guy and often found myself using both at the same time (and not just using paper for backup). The electronic charts show varying amounts of detail depending on how much you have zoomed in or out. With paper you can mentally choose to look at the big picture or the small one. Also the amount and accuracy of data in the Caribbean was often a bit less than you might want to have - this may reflect the data they have to work with. In some cases they rely on Admiralty or US charts but they also use Imray (see below) or other paper charts designed for yachting.

The charts and Raymarine C8O chartplotter were terrific for planning purposes and for setting up an anchor watch - we did the latter every time we anchored. It was great to see our track at anchor to see if we might be dragging - built our confidence and helped us sleep. They were also handy, but not essential, for plotting our location on passages and for determining VMG when we had currents. Overall grade - B+

Paper Charts and Cruising Guides - Other than for long offshore passages (eg Norfolk-St Thomas, to/from Bermuda) we did not use standard government charts since there are a number of chart products produced for the many yachtsmen that go to the Caribbean and Bahamas. These are virtual necessities since the government charts do not focus on the things that cruisers want to see - eg depths in anchorages that are not commercial ports. In some areas one needs to buy charts and guides separately; in other cases, the functions are combined in one publication. I will mention the charts/guides we used in each region. In some areas more than one type of chart and more often guide are available. In addition there is quite a bit of good stuff available online. For example, I made copies of all of the noonsite.com entries for the countries we were visiting. Also, the Seven Seas Cruising Association has a wealth of information for members. (Membership is something like $55 a year and well worth it).

Bahamas - Because of their proximity to the US there are quite a few choices here. Standing out are the Explorer charts (3 volumes for the entire chain). These combine both detailed charts and guide information and I think it is fair to say that I have never seen a better cruising guide/chart book. This is all you really need for the Bahamas. We also bought the Waterway Guide and Skipper Bob for the Bahamas (sold as a package at the Annapolis Boat Show). The Guide is really aimed for those who stay in marinas while SB is aimed at those coming from Florida and going as far as Georgetown. Overall Grades - Explorer - A+; Waterway Guide - C; Skipper Bob - C

Spanish Virgin Islands to Grenada - Here we used separate charts and guides. I was able to buy a used set of Imray-Iolaire charts both small and large-scale. These were quite good and had a bit of 'guide' info on the back from Don Street. If you had to buy these retail it could get very costly and you might want the chartbooks mentioned in the Puerto Rico section below.

We used three guide books written by Stephen Pavlidis. These seemed dated (even beyond their copyright date) and are probably the worst edited publications I have ever seen. On the positive side, Pavilidis has done a lot of useful sounding in the areas where you want to go and this data seemed very accurate. He also writes in a folksy, engaging style. Most people seemed to use guides written by Chris Doyle. Those who used them seemed to like them but felt there was still room for improvement. Overall Grades - Imray-Iolaire charts - A; Pavlidis guides (Virgins, Leeward Islands, Windward Islands) - C+

Puerto Rico - My stash of Imray charts did not extend beyond the Spanish Virgins so we bought the NV chartbook (Region 10) which also includes the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos. These are published in Germany (in English!) and I found them to be very clear and high quality. They include blowups of many, but not all anchorages and harbours of interest. They include no 'guidebook' info, just charts. Other chartbooks are available for other parts of the Caribbean. There does not seem to be a guide book for PR so we relied on internet sources. Overall Grade - NV Chart book - A

Active Captain - This is a website, activecaptain.com, that has maps and satellite images of much (all?) of the world along with descriptions of anchorages, marinas, and hazards provided by sailors. It is very useful in the US and Canada where coverage is extensive. The Caribbean and Bahamas are less well-covered and I found myself adding more reviews here than what I used but I am sure this situation will improve in the next few years and people discover this site. Overall Grade - US East Coast - B+; Bahamas and Caribbean - C+

Noonsite.com - This site is kept up by Jimmy Cornell and his people and is a clearing house for current information about world cruising destinations featuring things like clearance procedures and availability of marine services. Overall Grade - A

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Through The Bahamas



The water in the Bahamas was startlingly clear in most places. Even when it was more than 25' deep you could see every feature on the bottom. Here it is only about 8' and you get a lovely shadow of the boat on the bottom.


The Bahama island chain has a remarkable variety of places. The southern most islands (e.g. Mayguana and Great Inagua) are quite large with very small populations and little tourism. Further north you get into chains of smaller islands, we visited the Exumas and Abacos, that are more what one thinks about when the name 'Bahamas' comes up. There have more people (still not crowded though) and economies pretty much dependant on the tourist dollar. Finally there is Nassau which is unique - it is very urban and not really very nice.

Georgetown is on Great Exuma which, in comparison to its neighbours. is pretty large - although "Great" seems a bit of an exaggeration. Northward from Great Exuma is a string of small islands, some of which have small populations, some not do not. In total they are interesting. The surrounding waters are impossibly beautiful. If you have ever seen a picture of them you probably thought it was just a trick of the photography to get colours like that - not true. The variety of shades of blue beggars the imagination. The Exumas divide the deeper waters of Exuma Sound on the east from the much shallower banks to the west. In places the banks are very shallow (2-3 feet at low tide); in most places they are 6-8'. There are a number of cuts that allow you to get from one side of the islands to the other.

My son and his girlfriend flew into Georgetown and we had a week to deliver them to Nassau for their return trip to Toronto. We could have used more time to explore this lovely area. We stopped at the most popular places but they were not too crowded and worth the time. Staniel Cay had two great attractions only a mile or so apart. One is 'Thunderball Cave'. To hear the locals tell it, most of early James Bond movie, Thunderball, was filmed here - in reality, only the underwater scenes. (BTW, we later watched the movie - it has not stood up to the test of time very well.) The cave exists under a small rocky island and has an entrance on either side that you can swim through at low tide - perhaps 75' apart. What really sets it off is that there are a couple of holes through from the top of the island so it is lit as if with spotlights. There is a remarkable collection of tropical fish here who are very used to getting fed by visitors. If you do not have anything for them to eat they will try to nibble on you. Very much like snorkeling inside a huge fish tank.

Not far away are the locally-famous swimming pigs. A local farmer keeps a number of pigs on an island who have been used to being fed by visitors - do you sense a trend here? There were four of them there; two that were light brown with darker spots and two quite pink. The former would swim out to your dinghy to get their handouts. The pink porkers would only wade out to get theirs. Turns out pigs can swim very well - no problems with sinking for sure although they would go faster if they had little swim fins I think. Their little feet do not propel them very quickly. What a great deal for the farmer - free feeding for his pigs. These guys looked pretty much ready for market, they were quite large, although I should confess that as a city boy my exposure to pigs (rather than pork) has been limited.



Here he comes for yet another snack! Getting full does not seem to be a problem for these guys.


A short sail north we came to Exuma Park which is only accessible by boat and is truly gorgeous. Near the park headquarters there are a number of moorings in a long curving cut that is quite deep with very shallow water on either side (see picture). At low tide sand appears on both sides of the boat. In the channel there is a considerable current, as you might expect, and even largish sharks swimming by.




Exuma Park is beautiful and even has WiFi if you pay for it
. Moorings only here since space is limited and demand high - you have to reserve the day before and they call you VHF to tell you which mooring is yours. This photo was taken at about mid-tide. At low tide the sand banks on either side get much shallower.


We went for a long hike on the island and this was well worth it as we got to see great views and interesting features like salt pans that get a bit damp at high tides and blowholes. Blowholes are created where the sea has eroded away the soft limestone to create a sort of cave. Add a hole through the roof of the cave and the right sea conditions and you are all set. June was standing next to the first of these we encountered (we didn't really know what a bh was at this point) when a moderate wave crashed into cave below. The wave rapidly compressed the air in the cave which 'blew' out of the hole with considerable power. Her hat ended up some distance away and so did she when she returned to earth after her surprise.



In a park which asks that nothing be left behind, you are encouraged to leave a piece of wood with your boat name. Only after we made ours on a little bit of 1" x 4" we had, we learned that you are only supposed to use driftwood. Nice if they mentioned this in the cruising guides!

The next day illustrated the fickleness of the weather here. Heading north we started with several hours running in gorgeous conditions with the asymmetric spinnaker up (something we did often in the Bahamas) . Since the forecast was for squally conditions later in the day and because the sky was looking a bit iffy ahead (not really nasty, just iffy) I thought we should get the spinn away. Turned out to be a good call since about 20 minutes later we go hit by one of the nastiest squalls I have experience in 40 years of sailing and lots of squalls. Winds switched to almost due north (about 160* wind shift) and rapidly reached a steady 30 knots. Rain was torrential and really cold - I was pleased to have my very heavy-duty rain gear on. It was not like the usual 30 minute squall. This one lasted more than 2 1/2 hours which was long enough to built waves from the north that were about 4' high and very short. These were added to the 4 to 5' waves from the south that had built up over the last couple of days and the result was a chaotic sea. We had to go north and I was not impressed with the idea of beating into this mess so we motored - only problem was that if we went north the prop would almost come out of the water and cavitate (suck in air and allow the engine to over-rev). So we ended up tacking with engine so we could take the waves at a bit of angle. This was a first for me.

We finally got into the anchorage at Allan's Cay about 1730. I had chosen this particular spot since it seemed to have the best protection of any of the nearby spots and the forecast for the night was crummy with more squalls predicted. Of course, just about everyone else in the area had come to the same conclusion so it was crowded. We finally got a spot where we were not too close to others (and the reverse) which was fine, except that more boats kept coming and in the middle of the night a front went through and we swung to face in the opposite direction. Now there was not enough room as boats had differing amounts of scope out and had swung differently. After trying to find a spot to re-anchor (always fun in the rain and the dark) for a half hour or so we gave up and decided to start heading for Nassau around 0330. This worked out fine and meant we got to Nassau in good time.

Nassau (how do I put this nicely?) is the armpit of the islands. The anchorage is in a long channel that lies between city and Paradise Island. There is lots of current here and lots of traffic so it is not the best place to anchor for sure but at least has a secure dinghy dock. Paradise Island (see pic) is a huge resort development that looks like a cross between Disney World, Miami Beach and Las Vegas and it entirely an artificial environment. Nassau itself is expensive, unattractive, and most of it is unsafe in the evening and barely better during the day. We went to a bakery and door was locked and you had to be buzzed in. We had lunch at the local version of a fish market/farmers' market were we accosted by a drunk and had the female owner of the little outdoor restaurant scare off the guy with her machete. By the time we left (to go back behind the razor wire where the dinghy dock was), an older woman (also very drunk) had been pushed over and fallen on her beer bottle so her face was cutup, and an ambulance and the police were on the way. We were happy to leave Nassau to head toward the Abacos.



This is largest hotel on Paradise Island which is connected to Nassau itself by two large bridges. We walked over to have a look but could not find Mickey or Donald anywhere.

The Abacos are another lovely group of islands that are lightly populated but still focused on tourists. There are some pretty towns here that seem like very nice places to live. Hope Town is famous for it light house (see pictures), but also has lovely frame houses. The main part of the town does not allow any cars on its narrow streets. We anchored just outside the town's harbour in our shallowest anchorage yet - only about 6 feet of water at low tide. The entire area around Hope Town is about 8 feet at most.



Hope Town, with its famous lighthouse, is a lovely spot in many ways. The little picture shows a bronze door handle on the door that lets you get go out onto the balcony of the lighthouse (just above the top red stripe). The lighthouse is a wonderful example of the fruits of the latter part of the Industrial Revolution. It is made of iron, has a beautiful Fresnel lens, and uses a kerosene burner (like a giant Coleman lantern) to generate light - yes even today.

As you go north from Hope Town the population density drops off until you are into an area of uninhabited cays. This area still gets a lot of boat traffic as vessels either are coming or going to Florida from here. We did an overnight to Fort Pierce from a nice little harbour on one of these islands. It was an interesting trip for two reasons. The first was that we ended up doing more motoring than we had since leaving the United States. There was virtually no wind at all, even when we were crossing the Gulf Stream. We certainly look for any opportunity to sail and it never occurred to either of us to even try to sail. At most we might have had 5 knots and then almost on the news. The second interesting feature was crossing 50 miles or so of relatively shallow bank before reaching the open ocean between the islands and Florida. We were out of sight of land for many hours and yet the water was less than 25 feet deep the entire time (at times less than 10 feet).

We arrived at Fort Pierce just at dawn which was pretty much our plan, but our adventure was not over. As we moved toward and into the fairly narrow inlet there were hundreds of sport fishing boats, of every size, heading out. We just hoped they were paying attention and they seemed to be. Once we got into the ICW we were too early for the marina where we were hauling to be open. We decided to anchor for a couple of hours before calling them and heading in. Low and behold the mighty Westerbeke would not start. This had happened a couple of times before but I was always able to get it started by jumping the solenoid on the starter with a large screwdriver - not this time though. We ended up needing a tow into the marina - quite an ignominious ending to six months of a great sailing adventure.

After two days the mechanic finally came and it did not take him too long to discover that the culprit was a well-hidden circuit breaker on top of the engine that is part of starting circuitry. I did not even know that I had such a beast and it was hard to spot (it was under some wires and had been painted with the engine). Finally we got hauled and prepped the boat for long term storage until our return in October. The yard has many (300?) boats in long-term storage including many Canadians - we are between boats from Ottawa and Toronto. They do a good job of securing the boats since the ground is concrete and they have two ton concrete anchors (4 per boat) that each boat is tied to.

Future postings - coming soon I promise - will include more reviews and a look at our plans for the fall.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Back home for now ...

We are back in Toronto for several months while Ainia is out of the water in Fort Pierce, Florida for hurricane season. The forecasts are for a bad hurricane season so if one comes to the Fort Pierce area we will have to rely on the fact that the boat is well away from the water on a concrete base tied down to four two-ton blocks of concrete. Our plan is to return there in mid-October to finish getting ready for the new season (more on that latter).

This entry will have two parts:
1. reply to questions asked in previous comments
2. more equipment ratings

A report on our trip from Georgetown, Bahamas to Fort Pierce will be posted in a few days.

Answers to Questions
Steve, who has remarkably good taste in boats - he has a Bristol 45.5, wants to know:

Q About having windvane steering and davits
A (Or at least my take on it) - I don't see how you could do it. Even if you only wanted to use the davits for short trips and not use the vane, the davits would have to extend a huge distance aft to allow the dinghy to clear the vane. The sense we had in the Caribbean is that boats had one or the other with perhaps 80% having davits. Many of these folks complain about their electronic autopilots though. Long distance (monohull) cruisers basically always had vanes. Monitors were most common but there were lots of other brands like Hydrovane and Wind Pilot. Satisfaction with vanes of all types was very high.

As for the dinghy, a 3.1 m air floor, we did three things with it depending on the distance we were going and the severity of the winds and seas to be encountered. We often towed it, with the motor and all loose gear take out of the boat. If the conditions were worse we lifted it onto the foredeck with a spinnaker halyard (not at all hard to do) and tied in down there inflated. We tied it slightly to port to provide a wider passage down the starboard side (where the windlass controls are). For longer trips and for shorter trips in really crummy conditions we would bring it on board, deflate it and tie it down forward of the mast in the cradle for the old life raft (new raft is mounted on stern pulpit)

Q About how hard it is get the sail in with the new Schaeffer furler
A I think that once I had to use the winch to pull it in (heavy air and with the furler wrapped very tightly. I have no reason to think that a similar-sized furler from another maker would have been worse to use. I think it just works well because it is new and because the drum is much bigger than the Hood so there is much more mechanical advantage. I have a Harken ratcheting block at the aft stanchion that the furling line goes through and it has helped a great deal, although it is not very robust (forget the model number but it is the one they sell for this purpose with a clamp to go around a 1" pipe. The ratchetting bits broke off inside and I had to replace the block (I had a spare). I think I will replace the one that is there with the next size up ratchet block which is metal inside rather than plastic.

The furling line was led to the stanchion that is the forward part of the gate. To pull the line I would sit with by butt on the edge of the cabin. From here I could also release the starboard jib sheet gradually if I did not want too much flogging. I also could use my strength well (back and shoulders) from this spot and not have to rely only on my arms.

Q About energy use at anchor
A We have 12V refrigeration (replaced the 110V Grunert that was common on big Bristols) but still have 110v watermaker. The three week period was in Grenada and we jerry-canned water from the marina that was the local social center (we were in there just about every day anyway). The water was quite inexpensive and it seemed like it was cheaper this way and saved wear and tear on the genset and watermaker.

I would very much recommend solar panels over wind generation in the tropics. The solar panels were fantastic and we never even thought about energy use with them.

More Equipment Report Cards - in No Particular Order
- As I mentioned above, the ancient refrigeration system on Ainia was replaced. The boat has separate compartments for fridge and freezer on opposite sites of the cabin so I decided to go with individual units for each rather than one big unit. The price was similar. After a lot of thinking and reading, I decided to keep it simple and go go with air-cooled 12v units from Technautics in California. They use a standard Danfoss compressor but use holding plates instead of evaporators. They also have an 'intelligent' control unit that is supposed to lower power consumption. The refrigerator unit has worked very well indeed and power consumption has not been very much. The freezer unit has never really worked well and is now back in California for repairs under warranty. It has leaked refrigerant slowly but steadily. When it was working, it did keep the freezer box at a temperature where ice cream was quite hard but that is of little consolation. Grade for the refrigerator -- A (defrosting the holding plates is a bit of pain); grade for the freezer -- E

- Air Marine wind generator is also back to the manufacturer for repair. It proved to be noisy, had a brake that did not work properly (would start and stop with a crunch rather than turn slowly) and worst of all, did not seem to generate a great deal of power. If you need to buy a wind generator I would choose a different brand than this.
Grade -- F

- I have mixed feelings about the Walker Bay Air Floor inflatable. It seems to do its job very well and planes very well with two people and 6 hp (you can have 8 hp but I can't imagine why one would need that much). Also it is easier to lift, deflate and store than a rigid bottom boat. On the other hand it does not seem to be terribly well made. We have had the bow towing eye come off and a piece of fabric that joins the two floor sections (not one that holds air) start to come off. Grade -- B

- We bought a 6 hp Mercury outboard to power the dink. This is a 4-stroke engine and we use it a lot. In general it has worked pretty well but we have had ongoing problems with the carb flooding leading to starting problems. In general it has been OK but I wonder if I had paid the premium (and dealt with the extra weight) if I would have been better off with a Honda. Grade -- C

- Ainia came with an ICOM 710 SSB unit and it has worked very well indeed. I am the furthest from being a radio expert but it has met all of our needs - mainly accessing weather resources of various types. We replaced the cable going to the backstay antenna and we seem to be able to hear Chris Parker (for example) at least as well as any of the boats in our vicinity.The user face is not the best designed I have seen but this seems to be nature of SSB. Grade -- A

- We have been very pleased with JV Comm weather fax software. This German product is available for download on the internet so you can try it before you buy it. I tried a couple of similar products and they either did not work or did not work as well. This one seems to work just fine. You need a cable to go from the SSB radio to your computer. This was a bit hard to find since you need a 1/4" RCA jack on one end and a 1/8" RCA jack on the other. Took some looking. The only problem we found was that the software you use to pay for the program (only fair since you get a chance to test it) did not work. We will try again to pay. Grade - A

More of these to come later ...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Bit of a Summary

Enough about travelling for now. I realize that some blog readers may be looking for information to help prepare them for their own cruising adventures. It is time to discuss some of the practicalities of cruising. These include what things have worked well, and what things have been a disappointment. First, some context. We have been cruising since May 4th, 2009 when we left our ‘home’ at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City and headed into the East River and Long Island Sound. As of April 15th, 2010 we had travelled 5799.6 NM. To accomplish this we have sailed for 795 hours and motored for 293 hours, including going into and out of harbours. By our definition, if the engine is on, even if the sails are up, i.e. motorsailing, it is motoring. I have been very happy with the ratio of sailing to motoring since many cruisers end up motoring significantly more than they sail. This ratio of hours is largely because of three factors: we did not come down the ICW and instead went offshore to the US Virgins, Ainia sails really well in a wide variety of conditions, and we really look to sail first at every opportunity.

Equipment Review
June figures that everything on the boat should work, after all it is all pricey and supposedly engineered and built well. In theory, I agree entirely with this view, but the reality of boats is not so positive. Having said that, our experience has been overwhelmingly good. We have had quite a few minor problems but no major ones. We have been able to fix most things with only a few things that will need more attention (and possibly professional intervention) when we get back to the US. Anyway, on to comments on specfic gear. If anyone has questions about any of this stuff, add a comment at this site and I will reply on the blog so that everyone can get the info. Apologies for the grading system(s) – you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but not the classroom out of the teacher.

The Really Good Stuff – in modern teacher talk, ‘exceeds expectations’
· The MVP award has to go to Morley, the Monitor windvane steering system. Morley has steered for something like 4000 miles, including every point of sail, every sail combination and done brilliantly. There is a bit of learning curve at first to get everything set right, but now it has become pretty much second nature. It is hard to imagine life without Morley – the hours at the wheel that have been saved. GRADE – A+

· We have been very pleased with our Digital Yacht AIS system. We bought this at the Annapolis Boat Show at a remarkably good price (less than half of the next cheapest one we could find). For those not familiar with AIS, it allows you to ‘see’, on your chart plotter or radar, other AIS-equipped vessels within a range of 30 or so miles. A triangle appears on the display and when you click on it you get a variety of information about the vessel, including its name, course, speed, size, and its closest point of approach to you and when that will occur. We bought a transmit unit (some are receive only) and our vessel information appears on other vessel’s displays. On night crosssings I have seen freighters alter their course a bit to give us room several miles before they got close. The unit was inexpensive and works exactly as advertised. GRADE – A+

· Our Kyocera solar panels and Solar Boost 2512i charge controller have virtually eliminated any concerns about keeping our battery banks charged. In fact, when we were at anchor in Grenada for more than 3 weeks we never had to run the genset or engine to do battery charging. I installed the panels (one is 125w and one is 85w – I think) on our rail (they swing up and down but they are up 99% of the time) so they are exposed to as few clouds as possible. After installing them and the controller I felt like I should be doing something – but no, there is no user input at all. The system just works away happily generating loads of free energy. GRADE – A+

The Good Stuff – meets expectations
· We bought two North sails from their loft in New Jersey. One is a #2 genoa (135%) that has proven to be a real work horse and has been up more than 95% of the time, including during some strong winds with large reefs taken. It still looks to be in excellent shape and will go in to a loft for a check only. The assymetric spinnaker has not been used that often but has proven to be very handy at times. It was the smaller of the two sizes they offered, around 1300 square feet and is the right size for our needs. We have had it up in winds to 20 knots true and it was manageable without problems. GRADE – A

· Ainia came with an ancient Hood genoa furler that had seen better days – in any winds furling was a task. We replaced it with a Schaeffer 3100 system that has worked very well indeed and has made furling and reefing much, much easier. GRADE – A
More grades in a later posting …


What It Has All Cost
When we started this lifestyle we really did not have a clear idea of how much it would cost. Beth Leonard has a variety of cost ranges in her Cruiser’s Handbook and we heard her on this topic at a seminar at the Annapolis Boat Show, but it was not clear to us where we fell on her continuum between deluxe and ultra simple. Our boat is much larger and complex than her simplest case and we eat out, just not often or at fancy places so we would certainly be on the low side. So … we decided to keep close track of all of our spending and then do monthly summaries by category of spending. These reflect several factors. We have tried our best to live modestly while not missing what the islands have to offer. This has meant avoiding marinas and not eating out very often (or at very expensive places), both of which can balloon spending. Also, Ainia was well-equipped and fully-provisioned to start. The cost of these factors is not included below. At the very least the overall cost would include reprovisioning and some consideration for equipment depreciation. As well, boat insurance is not included which would add almost $400 a month to the totals.

Total Monthly Costs ($US)
· Nov - $1140
· Dec - $1045
· Jan - $1004
· Feb - $1446
· Mar - $3825*
· Apr - $879
*The March figure includes the purchase of a new windlass (the old one was working but this was a major upgrade) and new computer. Without these the spending was about $1200.

Spending by Category
We created a number of categories of spending to help us analyze where our money goes. First figure is total expenditures for six months, followed by monthly range.
· Boat Capital Expenditures (defined as boat improvements only) - $2635 - $0 to $2197 (windlass)
· Boat Maintenance (defined as keeping what we have in good repair and replacing existing equipment) - $924 - $39 to $390
· Fuel (diesel and gasoline for dinghy) - $575 - $0 to $304
· Water (we also use the watermaker and collect rainwater) - $28 - $0 to $14
· Groceries (including beverages) - $1875 - $187 to $459
· Internet access (includes buying drinks at bars that offer Wifi) - $100 - $4 to $48
· Eating out/touristy expenses - $1162 - $31 to $391
· Land transportation (we take local buses rather than taxis) - $145 - $10 to $40
· Government fees (customs, immigration, permits(Bahamas $300!)) - $575 - $24 to $300
· ‘Boat boys’ (not the problem we had been told) - $18 - $0 to $17
· Marinas and moorings - $239 - $20 to $80
· Laundry - $53 - $0 to $25
· Personal items - $711 - $0 to $430
· Miscellaneous – $36 - $0 to $22

Total spending for six months was $9338 (+insurance