SSB Install: Tuner to antenna

We use one of the big wires on that run from the deck to the top of our mast as an antenna for our single sideband radio. This wire is called a backstay, and thus the antenna is called a backstay antenna. In order to use the wire that way you have to also have a tuner to tune your wire during SSB usage.

Below, images from an install that I never blogged about. In order to connect the back stay to the tuner I had to cut the co-ax and reinstall it on the tuner. In order to do that I had to solder a PL-259 connector.

Rrrright. So, I don't know how to solder. Many youtube videos and a borrowed solder gun later, I had a not pretty but the good news is that the ugly solder is so far effective because our signal is good. Let's hope it lasts... The work stations, old & new connectors:

I was then able to open our AH-4 tuner and connect the new cord:

The wire was threaded through the ceiling of the aft cabin to the aft port section of the lazarette space and the tuner was installed there. The antenna wire then went from the tuner, through the cockpit combing to the backstay which serves as our antenna.

I used some nylon rod to keep the GTO-15 wire from touching the backstay. I had the brilliant idea to drill holes prior to cutting it so there would be a notch for the wire to sit into. Alas, it turns out the hole I drilled wasn’t really big enough or necessary. Just cutting the rod into 2” sections would have been plenty.

The installation with stainless still wire nut, nylon spacers connected with zip ties, and although you can’t see it the wire terminates in a ring terminal that has been double shrink wrapped at the connection:

Solar Panel Install

Back when we installed our solar panels I had taken these photos so I could talk about the install. I had a pretty complicated time figuring out how to get everything to fit on top of the bimini. I'm not sure exactly why because in hindsight it seems so simple. Hopefully some of these visuals might help someone else work out their installation.

We mounted aluminum barstock on the back of the frame to give us more options for mounting and also to act as a stiffener/brace to the existing aluminum frame.
Aluminum bar stock on solar panel

We fastened the aluminum barstock to the frame with spacers I cut from starboard and stainless u-bolts with wing nuts. The wing nuts and u-bolts are intended to simply the removal process in an emergency because they can be removed by hand without tools.
Solar panel spacer, u-bolt, wing nut

We used sealing ring terminals on the ends of the wire which were fit through the gasket provided by the manufacturers (2 Sharp 80W and 1 Kyocera 85W).
Inside solar panel connection

This is what the inside of the built in junction box looked like. We wired the panels in parallel and this panel has the wires from the preceding panel as well as wires going out to either the next panel or the MPPT controller.
Inside junction box (Sharp 80W)

The end wires come through the cockpit combing and down under our aft berth to our Blue Sky MPPT controller like this.
Blue Sky 2512ix

An overview of how the panels were working during this past summer is here.

How crowded was the West Coast of Vancouver Island?

Time for a numbers post.

People are always trying to find the next cool place to travel, that no one else has heard of so that they can have it to themselves. We're like that too. Then, when everyone else also finds that place, the people who used to "be there first" tend to get a little grumpy about the crowds.

We had heard some people griping about how busy the W Coast of Vancouver Island had become and how it used to be an isolated paradise. Most of our sailing has been in the Gulf Islands and about the only way to find isolation there is to go out in the winter, preferably in bad weather, so we were looking forward to the isolation of Northern Vancouver Island. Since, I've learned a lot about where I fall in the balance between wilderness and towns.

So, how isolated was each area we visited? Removing all of our nights in towns where, obviously, there was no isolation to be found, what percentage of time were we anchored in a bay all by ourselves?

Gulf Islands - 0 of 7 nights - 0%
Northern Inside Vancouver Island (Comox to Cape Scott) - 7 of 9 nights - 78%
Northern Outside Vancouver Island (Cape Scott to Estevan Point) - 14 of 22 nights - 64%
Southern Outside Vancouver Island (Estevan Point to Port San Juan) - 19 of 28 - 68%

Obviously these numbers are affected by our choices of anchorages. We sought out (and found) isolation more often early in the trip than later. Although, because I've removed towns from the tally, the percentages of at anchor isolation are probably not affected by our desire for company as much as you would think. Usually when we wanted interaction we headed to port. We also anchored in a number of places that were not ideal anchorages - rolly or exposed - rather than the main all weather harbors. For example, we spent 3 nights with other boats at the all-weather anchorage Sea Otter Cove and then moved 2 miles directly East and spent 5 nights to ourselves at the exquisite San Josef Bay (rolly).

Shaker siphons are really cool

At our going away party, good friends who are experienced cruisers brought us a pair of shaker siphons. In the first month of the trip we used them to put water from our collapsible jugs into our tanks and they worked quite well but it was the first time we filled our diesel tank from our jerry cans that they showed their true value.

The clear plastic hose has a fitting with a small ball in it. You put the hose end in the empty container, the ball end in the full container, and you jiggle the ball end a few times. And…that’s it. The liquids begin transferring.


Pretoriens come with 25 gallons of diesel in one main tank. We also carry 15 gallons in three 5-gallon plastic jugs. When we have to pour from the jugs, into the diesel tank, we very, very carefully end up making a mess anyways. I say “we” in the royal sense. It’s always Carol who takes this task. Aboard Estrellita 5.10b, fueling is a BLUE job.

And here is a non-messy, painless fuel transfer. He didn’t even have to take off the full enclosure!

The water hose lives in our garage aft cabin and the diesel hose lives in one of our “gross stuff” bins in the lazarette. THANK YOU SV ENDLESS!

In defense of port and starboard

Sailing is full of lingo and in that respect is more like grad school than any sport I've ever been involved in. And just like grad school about half of the terminology serves the useful purpose of helping you be specific in your statements - for example, "pull the rope" doesn't work very well when there are a dozen ropes. As long as everyone speaks sailing then "pull the port jib sheet" is a much more effective statement. Plus, every weird little piece on a boat needs a unique name to avoid sentences like "can you pull the little stabby metal pin thingy from the whatchamacallit so I can move the whatchamacallit to the thingamajig"*.

However, also like grad school about half of the words seem to exist simply to separate the wheat from the chaff, to make the speaker sound like he belongs in the club or they are arcane words used by sailors today as a nod to tradition.

When I first started sailing I thought the use of port and starboard was a bit silly. This was because we mostly used the words while steering or when pointing out another boat while we were in the same physical location as each other. In those instances, we shared a common reference point and so left and right were as effective as port and starboard.

As we began talking to each other while we were in different locations (front and back of the boat; inside and outside the boat), having a common understanding of directional terms became more tricky and port and starboard started to make more sense. Now that I've spent some time hunched upside down in a lazarette (inside the back of the boat in a damp dark hole) while Carol was perched on the stern (outside of the back of the boat over the water), I see the usefulness of being able to refer to port and starboard, and inboard (closer to the centerline) and outboard (farther from the centerline) for that matter.

Still, some nautical terms are more confusing than clarifying. For example, the head refers both to the bathroom generally and the toilet specifically, so I still use "bathroom" and "toilet". Some terms are neutral (e.g., the galley can easily be called the kitchen without confusion so I call it the kitchen).

Plus, I kind of enjoy watching people's eyes widen when I call it a kitchen. I'm just a wee bit evil like that.

*This sentence particularly doesn't work if your husband is a native francophone.

Highway 101 - Washington to California

Warning: Non-sailing material ahead.

While we still have a car we are considering a road trip down Highway 101, returning on I-5.

Any readers have any suggestions on "must see" places on this route? Winery suggestions for Napa/Sonoma and Portland area? Camping?

The Great Toilet Crisis: Installing our Lavac


Who said installing a toilet can’t be fun? Carol deserves a good show award. Although I worked hard, there isn’t room for two people to work in the head on anything inside the cabinetry. Once Carol was dirty…and I mean dirty with a capital YUCK…he decided that he would continue in the head hose handling position. That’s love.

Removing the old toilet was actually not so bad. We did it the night before the install. After the old toilet was out we had 5 main tasks:

1) Position and mount the pump inside our cabinetry in such a way that it was above the toilet bowl and yet the necessary hoses could still be bent to connect to it AND such that the handle of the pump stuck out into the bathroom in such a way that it didn’t obstruct the toilet seat and could be operated while seated. Here you can see the hole we cut for the pump handle and the paper we used to trace the pump dimensions. Also note the wee cabinet where all of the hoses and pump and sink all fit.


2) Cut a hole in the cabinetry for the handle receptacle and install the plastic ring and rubber gasket which is designed to make the installation waterproof but in this case is used more as a cosmetic cover (not that attractive itself really, but “finished looking” at least).

3) Cut a circle out of one inch starboard spacer to raise our toilet lip. Our old toilet was barely above our new waterline and we wanted it a tad higher. Considering I did this with a saber saw I’m quite pleased with the result (toilet is upside down here).


4) We decided to replace the crappy broken Jabsco Y-Valve with a Whale Diverter Valve which looks burlier, has fewer moving parts and NO rubber gaskets. Once I finally remembered that heating the hoses the best way to loosen them, Carol had a much, much easier time with this task. Luckily there was enough slack in all of the hoses that we could make the swap directly. I had purchased a new Jabsco as well, just in case, because we really weren’t interested in completely redoing the pipes.

5) Clean a few of the hoses (Carol had cleaned most last year) and reconnect all of the hoses to the toilet and diverter valve. Well, that sounds like the gross but easy part, right? Not for us. One of our hoses is melded to the fitting it is connected to and there was no way we were going to get it off without a heat gun. So, we stuck a stick in it and banged it around in the sludge until we figured we had “cleaned it” and then connected everything. No joy. It turns out we had plugged up the discharge hose with our brute force cleaning. Much stress, more poking, vinegar, grunting, groaning hand pumping, more poking and a lot of cursing later, Carol freed it up. This one oopsie mistake took almost 1/4 of our time. That’s the way of boat tasks.

The new manual Lavac:


Remaining tasks are: put in the tap screws in the remaining holes in the plastic cosmetic pump ring, patch the holes in the floor where the old pump used to be located, and shorten the pump handle a bit and perhaps put a more comfortable rubber handle on it.

More on initial impressions in a few days.

The Great Toilet Crisis: Crack!


I’m trying to figure out how my life has come to the point where I am blogging about a toilet. Worse, I’m really into it.


Sooooo….fair warning. In this post and the sequel, I will talk about poop. If that doesn’t float your boat, here are some pictures of fluffy kittens instead.


First, the marine toilet. In most boats you have a slightly smaller than normal bowl and seat and a manual pump that brings seawater in and the bowl contents out. The bowl contents may go to a holding tank, or the sea, or to a y-valve that lets you choose the tank or the sea. Some people upgrade to electric pumps and some people flush with fresh water rather than sea water.


Two totally grodi to the max things about marine toilets:

IMGP52441) Sea water + pee = a shellac that hardens in the pump and the pipes – deforming the rubber bits in the pump and gradually restricting flow in the pipes. Clearing this sludge requires frequent treatments with vinegar or muriatic acid (a pool chemical) and sometimes  hoses being taken out and beaten on the dock. Imagine that for a second – beating your poop hose on the dock. Lovely, huh?

2) The pumps are notoriously finicky and you periodically have to open the pump, clean out the shellac (gag) and replace the rubber seals that have become deformed. This is called “rebuilding the head”.


Our toilet was old. How old? We don’t know because it came to us already really old. It was so old that the plastic bits were all brittle and each time we rebuilt the toilet it was a balance between tightening things enough that they wouldn’t leak but not so tight that we would crack a plastic part. Our first week back at the dock, I rebuilt the head. Out of fear of overtightening, I left a few “just a drop at a time” leaks that Carol noticed and was kind enough to attend to. Carol, having already broken one head part, was very careful to tighten miniscule amounts at a time and watching for the leak to stop.


*CRACK* There goes another part on our ancient pump. Sea water starts gushing into the boat (sea water that has been in poop pipes I might add) and Carol quickly shuts the valve that goes to the ocean (this valve is called the seacock – don’t giggle, I’m serious, that is what they are called).


After some quick internet searching it becomes clear that finding this part is going to be nearly impossible and a replacement pump will cost about the same amount as the cheapest marine toilet.


I told Carol that rather than a crisis, we should see this as an opportunity. I hated our old head. I had a callous on my left palm from pumping the damn thing. I wanted something that pumped with some mechanical advantage not a silly tiny metal handle you had to pull up and down.


So, we went big. After checking our local used boat parts store and coming up empty handed, we bought a really nice toilet called a Lavac. The Lavac uses a pump that is built to be a manual emergency bail out pump if your boat starts sinking. You still have to attend to your hoses but the seals on the Lavac (reportedly) go about 3 years between replacing rather than the 6 months we were used to (and we should have done at 4 months). More on the installation and how it is working in the next installment of The Great Toilet Crisis Opportunity.



Rest in peace Wilcox-Crittenden 1460:


Backyardless & Sneakaboards

A sneakaboard is someone who lives aboard their boat (i.e., a liveaboard) but is breaking the rules of the management or the community by doing so. Someone might sneakaboard simply to avoid paying the liveaboard fee which is additional to moorage or because living aboard is not allowed by the marina and/or not allowed by the community.

We have never been sneakaboards. We have always managed to find places that accepted liveaboards and then paid the fee.

While leaving the West Coast of Vancouver Island we had arranged a sublet in the greater Victoria area. We pulled in, were met at the dock with a key, exchanged contact info for payment and began settling into our part-winter backyard. I found the local library, we checked out the grocery, and generally enjoyed the last bits of summer.

On our second day there we were accosted by the marina manager who was mad that we were there without being told by our subletters and adamant that we could not live aboard at that marina or in that community. Not only the bearer of bad news, he was one of those "about to have an aneurysm" type of guys.

It turns out that the owners had made arrangements with management to sublet and management hadn't told the marina manager but that it was not legal in that community for us to liveaboard. After we called them to discuss the marina manager, the very nice people who were subletting the slip called and made an arrangement with him and the owners to look the other way while we were there.

But the entire experience felt dirty. Over the next few days as we scrambled to make alternate arrangements we noticed that there are many, many liveaboards in that marina and all of them scurry around, trying not to be noticed, not meeting each others eyes. We're not very good at being inconspicuous or living quietly. What's the point?

One notable exception was this gentleman who, after chatting with us for a bit, said "there is something nice about you two. If I were a pastor I would marry you." I later wondered if it was a joke to himself because he was actually a pastor. He seemed like the calm, shepherding type.

So we broke the sublet arrangement, made another arrangement, found an even better arrangement and broke the second as well, all within about 12 hours. So now I felt backyardless and flaky.

In the end, we are settled in a great spot. We love our new community. We are enjoying being in Victoria again and we are well situated to park the boat while Carol works about half time and while we do some land and air travel in between.

Port San Juan, Sooke, Cadboro Bay & Sidney Spit

IMG_5180Our strategic retreat went: Barkley to Port San Juan arriving at dark and leaving first thing in the morning, Port San Juan to Sooke arriving in the afternoon, enjoying the sunset and a lazy morning and then leaving for two nights at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Cadboro Bay and another night at anchor, a night at anchor at Sidney Spit to enjoy before we headed to a dock for a few months*.

Here we are after living and traveling together for 3 months on a 35 foot boat. Yes, we still like each other --->

If the low pressure system hadn’t been chasing us, we were going to do a day hike on part of the famous West Coast Trail while we were at Port San Juan but that wasn’t to be.

Sooke was surprisingly beautiful by boat. We anchored just off the spit and I thought “why haven’t we been here before”. Again, we didn’t make it onshore to walk on the park because we were moving fast.

The Royal Victoria Yacht Club was very fun. Everyone was friendly, the beers at the club house were relatively cheap and we were excited to splurge on lattes, italian deli and groceries at Peppers. Plus, we got to entertain good friends at the yacht club as if we had paid the big bucks to join. Finally, they were having races while we were there so we anchored in Cadboro Bay and watched children and adults round the buoys with various levels of skill (not always correlated with age).


IMG_4096 We had a lovely last night enjoying the sunset and having a nice dinner at Sidney Spit. Sidney Spit is just outside of Sidney where we lived for a time while preparing to cruise and is a favorite quick get away for local boats. There is a hiking path and, of course, a long sandy spit that nearly disappears at very high tides. Here is a photo from our flight up Vancouver Island.

This won’t be the first time I express this here, but it was difficult not to feel like this was the end of our “cruising” because we will do so much less travel by boat this winter, much more travel by land, and also because for at least the next few months our boat will be “back home” or at least in the same city as before if not the same exact location. If we were spending the hurricane season in a foreign port I wouldn’t be feeling the same way. Even though we are planning exciting trips, some to exotic locations, there was a feeling of loss and transition for me during our night at Sidney Spit.

It’s a good thing we have a boatwork to do list a mile long to keep our minds off such things…and we didn’t have time to mull on anything because just as our vagabonding took a pause, we were backyard-less again. More on that soon.

*except that didn’t work out and we were booted back onto the water again scrambling for a new backyard.

Running from weather & the grib files shine


We waited late enough in the season that rather than enjoying a brisk NW to W wind at our backs down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we retreated from the West Coast of Vancouver Island in light air between low pressure systems.


We saw this weather system approaching via grib files dowloaded on our SSB radio/pactor modem. Our position is marked by the green boat. For those not familiar with grib files, the wind arrows have a long bar for every 10 knots of wind so an arrow with three long bars and a half bar means a forecast of sustained 35 knot winds (gusts are extra). Also you can look at how close the lines around the low or high are together – the closer the bars, the higher the winds. At this point the system was far enough away that the local weather 5 day forecast was still showing light winds and with that information only we would not have left Barkley Sound. Based on the grib, we decided that it was a good time to start moving towards the inside of the island. The contrast between the 5 day forecast and the grib really showed us the advantage of being able to see what is forming.



By the next day, the grib file was showing the system intensifying before reaching shore.  Notice the 40 and 45 knot winds?



By the time the low hit shore the forecast was for 50+ knot winds on the North of Vancouver Island and 40+ knot winds where we had just been. For context, 64 knots starts being called a hurricane.


We would have been fine. We would have ducked into a really great anchorage somewhere and had a rough few days. Experiencing those winds at anchor is sure to happen at some point on our trip. However, it was a lot nicer to not beat up ourselves or the boat and instead be watching sunsets and orcas.


Thank you to our SSB, our modem, and the people who post their hard earned knowledge on the sailing forums from which I learned and helped our installation go quickly, relatively painlessly, and work on the first attempt.

Happy Thanksgiving

It's cozy and warm in the boat, the skies are blue. I am still full from a fabulous brunch with mimosas at a friend's home and in a few hours I am sliding a chicken into the oven to roast. With a stack of library DVDs and magazines, and a new head installation already accomplished this weekend, today is shaping up to be an ultimate day of sloth.

As an Americanadian, I get two turkey-days. Except that we can't fit a turkey into the boat oven so we roast a chicken instead and this year it looks like we may be traveling for American Thanksgiving.

2010 projected turkey count: 0

Fun-to-suck factor for today: 100%-0%

The last three anchorages (in short)

IMG_5164Our last three anchorages in Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island were: the lagoon between Jaques & Jarvis islands, the town of Bamfield and the North side of Fleming Island by the Port Alberni Yacht club.

At Jaques-Jarvis lagoon (which we alternated pronouncing either anglicized “Jack-Jaaarvis” or frenchiefied “Jacque-JarvEE”) we met up with single-hander and planned Japan circumnavigator Kirk aboard SV Silk Purse. We had him aboard for roast and chatted about just about everything. The lagoon has a very tight entrance, navigable at high tide only with our draft, and the Dreamspeaker guidebook gives an entrance route that looks pretty scary on the CMAP charts. Carol rowed out in the dinghy with our handheld depth sounder, found the big rock and parked over it while I drove by about 5 feet from him (and the rock).  It was quiet and lovely inside. Kayaking was good, not fantastic.

Next we went to Bamfield for a grocery, internet stop. We spent a few nights there and had dinner aboard Silk Purse as well as catching a salmon burger at the bistro (fresh, but a patty not a filet). The West side of Bamfield is pretty and the hike out to the beach ended up in a spectacular beach/view. There is a small aluminum bench cemented high up on this rock and we sat there for a while drinking in the view.

Finally we went to Fleming Island and hiked the trails at the Port Alberni Yacht Club (below left). The trails there are beautiful rainforest trails leading to small pocket beaches. Definitely worth doing especially on a misty day like we had.  The docks there are quite expensive we thought (considering you are not in a town). We anchored anyways and they were already shut down for the Fall/Winter. Carol caught a nice sized fish.


Wet, rainy winter

Remember my post about the early Fall and our "smart decision" to stay here another year instead of head South?

Apparently we are in for a doozy of a wet, stormy winter.


Time warp: I am a little behind in finishing up our blogs from the West Coast. As you know, the blog posts are usually a few weeks behind our travels. That way I can write them while things are happening but upload them in batches when we have internet. We're actually in Victoria right now and in the middle of the GREAT TOILET CRISIS. You'll be subjected to a long story about that with photos when we've finished.


We have seen so many whales and I never get out the camera because by the time we get out the camera, they are gone *or* they are far enough away that they will just look like black dots. Once, we stayed side by side with a feeding whale for long enough that I took a bunch of great pictures but it turns out that the Rebel will focus and make the “taking picture sound” when there is no memory card. It flashes “no card” while doing so on the LCD. Incidentally, you don’t use the LCD to take pictures on the Rebel so YOU CAN’T SEE THAT. *le sigh* So, no pictures of whales.

We’ve seen orcas in the Gulf Islands but we saw none our entire 3 month trip around Vancouver Island until just as we re-entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They were with us for about 5 minutes. By “with us”, I mean “completely ignoring us but not ditching us”.


I still plug my nose

We are looking into taking up a new hobby that we can continue while cruising. Some people find that sailing, swimming/snorkeling, beach walking and visiting new places is enough and we plan to binge on all of those activities, but Carol and I are happiest when we have some physical, outdoorsy hobby that exhausts us. We used to climb regularly and although we will still carry gear, we don’t expect to climb very often.

This is all complicated by the fact that I have always been a timid person in the water. I still plug my nose when I jump in the water and have never mastered the art of swimming with my head under – this despite childhood lessons, reading books and trying again as an adult. The only way I can keep my head under is to wear a mask or hum constantly. I remember enjoying a passage in one of Tania Aebi’s sailing books because she admits that she doesn’t love swimming and sails because she likes to be on top of the water, not in it

Carol and I spent a month in Thailand for our honeymoon and while there I conquered my fear of putting my face in the water and became a snorkeling convert. On that same trip, I became dive certified and the amazing underwater environment took my mind off of my fear of “things touching me in the water”.

And yet, here I am perusing water sports. We are working up plans to try kite surfing. I’m very much looking forward to practicing my free diving when the water is warmer as an addition to normal snorkeling.

C’est romantique

We had been sailing in light airs with our asymmetrical spinnaker when the winds finally died and I went forward to drop and bag the sail as Carol began motoring. We were bummed out to be motoring, especially because we had been looking forward to sailing down the Strait and had instead, been chased out into light airs trying to stay out of the way of the big low pressure system that was bringing hurricane strength winds to Vancouver Island’s West Coast.

At this point in our running with our tail between our legs strategic retreat, we were en route from Barkley Sound to the Strait of Juan de Fuca (for non-locals this means, heading from the ocean side of Vancouver Island to the body of water between WA and BC). Surrounded by a stunning sunset on the water combined with a moon rise and the sky, we forgot such petty issues as motoring and weather windows and we spent the last hours of light sitting in the cockpit together soaking in the view.



Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


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