We are crossing the equator!


On our to do list in March is a virtual passage from Mexico to the Marqueses.

For friends and family, the Marqueses are often the first landfall in the Pacific Crossing after leaving N or Central America and are basically south of Hawaii -- far south.

We wanted to complete the virtual passage close to the month that we will someday be making it (thus March) but we also have a lot on our plates in April so we chose to leave March 1 even though that is earlier than we would probably choose to leave on the actual passage.

Our goal was to learn about this route in particular but more importantly weather and routing in general.

There was a lot to learn before we could even choose an approximate course. We used Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes, the Pacific Puddlejump weather files to add to what we already knew of the weather and current patterns, weather seasons, and general routing choices.

As a general routing plan, we chose to leave from Cabo San Lucas, head toward 05 N, 125 W, then head south until we hit the SE trade winds (somewhere south of the equator) and from there head the remaining distance SW.

Carol and I each have a boat. We are using Passage Weather for wind and wave forecasts and each decided, based on the forecast, whether we were ready to leave (we were) and once we left, what direction we are heading each 24 hour period.

We made a bunch of arbitrary and unrealistic decisions on how to decide what happened in a 24 hour period. For example, we don't change course during the 24 hour period and we check in with ASCAT satellite weather for current conditions once per day whenever it is convenient and decided that whatever it shows right then is "what had happened" for the previous 24 hours period.

We also decided that our boat would not be able to move in wind less than 3 knots, that we would make 1/2 the wind speed up to a max speed of 7 knots and that on a run (wind behind us) we would take 1/2 the true wind and average it with 1/2 the true wind minus that speed. Then we multiplied that speed over the 24 hours and corrected for any currents over .5 knots using OSCAR. For example, on a run in 17 knots of wind, we take 8.5 knots (1/2 true wind) averaged with 4.5kn (true wind - 8.5 knots) for 6.5 kn over 24 hours for 156nm.

We also decided to complete ignore the slowing effect of waves because we are relatively inexperienced on exactly how much that will slow our progress in which conditions and also it was too complicated for this exercise. We already feel like we were squeezing this in between more important projects but have committed to making certain that our personal preparation is a priority with equal standing to boat preparation...so we are making it happen.

As of today, both of our boats are poised 12 miles above the equator. The line that has 4 points only is the "planned route" and my boat is the boat North of that line and Carol's was South of it and is now on it.

It is a nautical tradition to celebrate the first crossing of the equator by boat in a ceremony for Neptune in which the uninitiated (tadpoles) become initiated (shellbacks). As far as I can tell in various settings this involves either hazing, drinking, or just generally staring at the GPS as you pass 1N to 0 and start into the "S" section of latitude. There is, of course, nothing else to see to mark the occasion because you are in the middle of the ocean.

We have a bottle of champagne ready...and it ain't virtual!


Sometime you need to be a pirate

And sometimes it goes horribly wrong
 We have the coolest friends.

((Jamie, Ella and Tyler visiting last summer))

IWAC, you whack, we all whack for IWAC

The second interview for the Interview With A Cruiser project comes out today. It is 10 questions with the famous crew of Bumfuzzle.

If you haven't read the story of Pat & Ali's circumnavigation, boater and non-boater alike, you should.  It's a fascinating travelogue. I haven't read their subsequent travels in their VW van yet but that is on my reading list.

I won't be continuing to announce the IWAC interviews on this blog unless there is something specific that I want to pontificate about. Interviews will come out each Monday and I have three more interviews in hand with Sereia, Esper and Anne Laurie plus 5 other boats that have agreed to participate.

If you wish, you can subscribe to the interviews via that page (email, feed or twitter). If you want to help spread the word about the project on your own blog or site, you can link directly or paste the following html into a blog post or website to create a badge that links back to this page. I'm going to publicize it on cruisersforum.com today and probably sailnet the following week.

<table style="width: auto;"><tbody><tr><td><a href="http://interviewwithacruiser.blogspot.com/"><img src="http://lh3.ggpht.com/_M4rimDeqYU8/S6_qyej2MLI/AAAAAAAAADE/frH4pDDEpsQ/s144/iwac_small.jpg" /></a></td></tr><tr><td style="font-family: arial,sans-serif; font-size: 8px; text-align: center;"><a href="http://interviewwithacruiser.blogspot.com/">The INTERVIEW WITH A CRUISER Project</a></td></tr></tbody></table>

That html will create a badge that looks like this:

Rebel Yell

Carol and I engaged in a little retail therapy last week. Neither of us are big shoppers and other than buying boat equipment we tend to spend our play money on food, drink and experiences rather than gear.

We are both feeling the effects of the impending life change and we keep trying to manage the stress in healthy ways. So far we haven't thrown any electronics in the ocean in a fit of rage and we still like each other so I think it is working.

While out on a short grocery trip at Costco, we found ourselves semi-impulsively buying a DSLR camera. We have talked about buying one for several years and each time the subject arose we talked ourselves out of it.

At Costco we found ourselves looking at the exquisite Canon Rebel T1 and...we caved. We didn't buy it there but after some quick comparison shopping (like, *really* quick) we stopped somewhere else and bought one.

And. It. Felt. Good.

Of course, then we got home, did some real online shopping and review reading, had buyers remorse and exchanged that camera for a Canon Rebel XSi with an 18-55mm IS lens and a fantastic 55-250mm IS lens (zoom, zoom) for the same price.

And. It. Feels. Better. ;)

Below (click on "read more") is a series of cheeseball photos  celebrating our purchase.

- Livia

It's not all white sandy beaches and cocktails

For most, the dream of cruising is something on the order of white sandy beaches, cocktails in the cockpit and setting sail in perfect wind off into the horizon.

And that dream is reality. It just isn't the entire picture.

When you read books on planning they are full of the not-so-good stuff, for the good reason that they are helping you prepare and thus to avoid as many boat moments as you can. When you read personal accounts of cruising they often emphasize the dangerous times at sea, perhaps because they stand out in the authors own minds, and perhaps because those moments make for good reading and selling of books.

I recently read this post from Karen on her site Weather Helmed which brings home the emotionally draining aspects of setting out on a sailing vessel.

There is no way to avoid those moments and we've tried to set ourselves up for success by maximizing our fun-to-suck ratio but the truth is that most people have the same goal as they prepare to cast off their docklines and still deal with a similar set of issues after they leave the dock.

Food for thought.

As an aside, it is a very small world in sailing. Our friends Mike and Hyo aboard IO, whom we met in Sidney, recently had dinner with Karen and Matt in Mexico which we found out, not because we know Karen & Matt, but because we are reading their blogs.

Edit: And yet another person we know thinking the same thoughts.

Cockpit party

A bit ago we had our first 6-person dinner party (including us) and this last weekend we had our first 10-person cockpit party.

We bought some provisions (this is load one):


Fired up the BBQ and put the LED lights out:

Firing up BBQ

And we fit 10 people in the cockpit cozily.

Cockpit party

I had a great time and have been dreaming of more tropical gatherings since while at the same time feeling nostalgic about leaving Victoria and the people here.

I'm only disappointed that we didn't bust out the eye patches for photos.

- Livia

Ahoy there winch!

Last Fall we were sailing back to Sidney from Portland Island, one of our favorite anchorages and a Provincial Marine Park, when I cranked on the main starboard winch and heard CLUNK.

I tentatively went another click and it worked but sounded just plain wrong.

Main winch

It was time to delve into the mystery that was the inside of our winches.

I went to Lewmar's site, downloaded the manual for our size (44), read some of the forums to find out what gear I needed, realized that our oh-so-fantastic and organized previous owner had already stocked us with winch grease and lube, and began trying to find the right hex key to open up the winches.

Onion layer 1

After starting to open them I realized that the manual that I had was wrong. No problem, we knew our winches were old so I needed an older version manual. DAYS later, with the poor half-open winch under a ziploc, I finally found a 26 year old manual that someone had scanned into .pdf for our 26 year old winches.

The inside of the winch

They are original - fairly certain. On the one hand, wow, Lewmar makes a great product. On the other hand, are they going to break? Will we be able to find spares if they do? Luckily, everything looked very nice inside except for needing a good clean. All of the gears looked unworn and I started the time consuming task of scrubbing everything with a toothbrush and lighter fluid.

Scrubbing winch parts

Well that is -- everything looked good except for the broken pawl. Pawls are these little things that hold, in concert with a gear, the entire force of the foresail, via the jibsheet. There are 3 in each of our main winches so that if one goes, the other two will hold. One of ours had rusted, siezed and then sheared off while being used.

Broken pawl

A close up of the broken pawl and our teak which we are letting go natural the, er, natural way.

Broken pawl

After picking up a bunch of pawls and springs, enough for this project and the spares kit, it was just a matter of regreasing and lubing everything and figuring out the jigsaw puzzle.


And then, because I'm not good at doing things half way, I moved on to the main port winch and all of three winches on our mast. Luckily the port winch was fine and just involved the labor of disassembling, cleaning and reassembling. The mast winches looked mostly perfect. Hardly any cleaning to do and no wear.

Nice pawls

Except one winch which it looked like had some grease get into the pawls (the pawls only get oiled, not greased) and the grease gummed it up and caused the pawl to stick - see the furthest left pawl:

Stuck pawl

After this multi-day process was finally over and I cleaned up the cockpit from the grease I had tried so carefully to avoid splattering, we discovered through conversation with friends that instead of grease one can soak the whole mess in WD-40 and then reassemble. By doing so, the next time there won't be any grease to clean up which was, after the research I had to do, the most difficult and time consuming part.


And we learn...

- Livia

I have a belly full of live typhoid virus

As an update to "I am a human pincushion" I realized I never jotted down what vaccinations were recommended by the travel clinic for our long-term cruising plans.

First I had to update a vaccine that I had no idea I was supposed to have again as an adult (i.e., who knew I needed a polio booster?) and also get a regular immunization that everyone needs every so many years (i.e., tetanus). Those two came together with diptheria as one shot.

After that, the doctor recommended a relatively simple set of vaccines initially* for our travels. Nothing as dramatic as I had worried. I walked out of the office with the first shot (above) and 3 other shots.

Hepatitis A (my second of the 2 required) -  at least 20 years
Hepatitis B (my first of the 3 required) - at least 15 years
Yellow Fever (one shot) - 10 years
Typhoid (oral) - 4 years

I went back for my second Hep B a month later and still need a third in the Fall. Right now I am taking the oral typhoid pills which are attenuated live virus, need to be kept in the fridge, have to be taken every other day on an empty stomach and make me feel dizzy and headache-y. Blech. Better than typhoid I suppose, the risk of which apparently starts in Mexico and continues as you head South.

- Livia

*I say initially because as we travel to various regions we will need to check to see what the health issues are at that time. We may need Japanese Encephalitis for example at some point and likely and update to typhoid.

The Interview With A Cruiser Project

Two weeks ago, while failing to sleep at night, I started working on a project I had been wanting to start which is, in essence, 10 questions asked of experienced cruisers.

Nitty gritty: Different question sets asked of each boat but drawn from a single question bank so that, over time, each question is asked of many different cruisers, and the interview bank is easily sortable so that all interviews with a given question can be easily accessed. I defined "experienced cruisers" as people who have been cruising outside of the US & Canada for more than 2 years. I have a way for readers to submit questions for the bank and also to volunteer themselves or suggest others for interviews.

After creating the site and emailing a few people, I have my first two interviews returned and a few more boats who have agreed to the interview and have the questions in hand. People have been generally excited about the idea and interested in participating. The first interview is with Scimitar, next week is with the crew at Bumfuzzle and also in the works are interviews with SVs Third Day and Sereia.

The first interview went live today here:

Thanks to those who suggested questions. As the interviews progress, if you feel so inclined, pimp the site on your own outlet for me.


Two years ago, about a year after the purchase of our boat I decided to finally tackle our seriously gross cabin lights. This is a medium tarnished one, light fixtures near water sources (galley, head) were worse.


We polished a few by hand with Bright Boy and with Nevr-Dull both of which worked but were very labor intensive. I came across a tip online to soak your brass overnight in Kool Aid. I bought Kool Aid packets - the kind you still have to add sugar to. Then I added water but not sugar.

Hand Dye

I soaked the first fixture for about 1.5 hours and it was a lot better. However, I soaked two more overnight (because I was running out of time) and the results were amazing.

After Kool Aid

The Kool Aid cut the elbow grease down to about 10% of what it took without.

After polishing

Anything with citric acid as the first ingredient probably has the same effect.

Brass is a high maintenance item if you want it to look good. It has been 2 years since the Kool Aid project and the fixtures are dull again. No pitting, no grossness, just dull. My thought is that the longest I can get away with doing them is every 2-3 years. If I do them in the next year, it will be a quick and easy job - not painful at anchor. If we wait longer it starts getting back to the big job it was the first time.

That, right there, is the balance we are trying to find. Do enough maintenance, often enough, that painful jobs are avoided when possible but not trying to stay ahead of the curve any more than that.

- Livia

Warning: The Kool Aid *will* dye your hands. Mine were green although they are only lightly green after a shower ;)

Tropical storms

When you look at historical tropical storm data, the ocean looks like a pretty rough place:

Tropical cyclones 1945-2006

As usual though, the real answer is "it depends" and in this case it depends on the season. Although a clunky interface, the historical hurricane track query function at NOAA yields some very useful information.

The conventional wisdom is to head down the Baja peninsula into Mexico no earlier than November. I'll show you the NOAA data and you can see why.

Here are the tropical storms from 1948 to 2008 in September in the Baja region:
September - 1948 to 2008 - Categories 1 to 5

And October:
October - 1948 to 2008 - Categories 1 to 5

And November:
November - 1948 to 2008 - Categories 1 to 5

For a separate passage, here is the reason why conventional wisdom is that March/April is a fine time to head to the South Pacific Islands - same data set for March:
March - 1948 to 2008 - Categories 1 to 5

It is more difficult to graphically understanding "the Hurricane Season" for the S Pacific as I could find only one hurricane ever in February. Now, one hurricane is enough to kill me so I'm not suggesting we sail off to the S Pacific in February - but I don't get it yet.

Feeding the Seals

Meet our new guard dogs.

The seals at Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria, BC are fat, well fed and expert at convincing tourists to buy 6 "feeding" fish for $5 from the nearby shop.

They float just under the water waiting for the sound of foot steps on the wooden docks near the fish shop.

Waiting for footsteps

When they hear steps, they poke their heads up and look cute.

Feed me

They will jump for fish, turn in circles for fish and splash slow tourists who hold the fish out of reach for too long.

Feeding the Seals at Fisherman's Wharf

This is my Mom feeding them. I love the expression of the woman just behind her.

- Livia

Sears Diehard Platinum Batteries

The relief in the boat when we finally ordered our batteries was palpable. This has been the decision that would not go away. It was easier to choose our boat -- love at first sight -- than choosing a replacement battery bank.

Our current battery bank is 150A of Interstate Gel batteries plus a start battery. Our experience suggests these would make a good choice for a weekend warrior at least if not more. With mostly shore power, a lot of weekends, and a few longer trips, they've performed consistently and maintenance-free for the past 3 years and I'm not sure how much older they are because they came with the boat.

In my opinion, "consistent and maintenance free" must be the highest praise a piece of boating gear can receive.

We looked into every type of battery and at various moments have been "ready to buy" golf cart batteries and "ready to buy" Odyssey PC-1800s.

The Sears Diehard Platinum Group 31-M Batteries are made by Odyssey and are the same batteries inside a different case. I called Odyssey myself and they verified both of those statements.

Everyone has strong opinions about batteries and I believe that is in large part because of differences in how they use them, how they charge them, their budget and their tolerance of battery maintenance. Some people want the cheapest batteries per cycle over the long term. Although cost matters to us, we put a premium on our free time as well. There is enough maintenance on a boat to keep us busy as it is.

I want to put my batteries in their hole, with a strap down, and forget about them except for charging them to 100% once a week. I also want to minimize the amount of time I have to run my generator to get them topped off by having them accept charge like a thirsty camel and also to have a big enough battery bank and enough solar that we can go days between running the generator. Beyond that, I want them to work, and to keep working for a long time, until they don't and then I buy new ones.

Enter the Odyssey/Sears, the better thirsty camel of the battery herd.

The big flashy news about Odyssey's is that they can accept a larger amount of charge at once than other AGMs but this fact wasn't particularly valuable for us because, at maximum, we will only ever be able to generate 80-100Amps incoming. What was very interesting to us is that they can take a higher rate of charge all of the way to 100%. All batteries, including Odysseys, taper off in their charge acceptance rate as they reach full, but Odysseys flatten out less than others.

This fact is exciting because it means decreasing the amount of time we have to run the generator when we do run it and increasing the likelihood that we will be good battery owners and charge them to 100% regularly which AGMs need for their longevity.

With the purchase, our battery bank will increase from 150AH to 500AH. For the non-boaters, actually I am certain that no non-boaters will have made it this far in the post, you use your batteries down to 50% (ish) and then need to charge them so you don't damage them.

At 150AH we have to charge them every day at our current use of about 75AH a day and our amp usage will go up as we start cruising full time meaning we would have to charge them twice a day with this wee battery bank. At 500AH we would have to run the generator every 3rd day if using 75A and that is assuming NO solar input.

We are planning to install the batteries when they arrive in 2-3 weeks and we'll talk about the installation then.

3 months to go

Our to do list is long but we parsed it out by month and we are finishing the assigned tasks for each month and still keeping on top of "normal weekly/monthly maintenance and fixes". So, I try to ignore the total list and trust the monthly lists.

Honestly, it is our long list of little things that take up the most time and are too numerous, and boring, to write about here.

The big items we have finished in the last month are:
the medical kit
my immunizations
the alternator order and install (install was bonus, only ordering was on list)
revarnishing interior completed (bonus but oh so necessary)
HAM license for Livia

Partly finished items are:
Virtual passage (we are currently between Mexico and the Marquesas "virtually")
SSB install
Solar purchase and install
Battery purchase and install
Thinning more stuff
AIS receiver purchase
Spares first wave of purchase
Queen Charlotte planning

We have no major items that aren't started except for the huge 2 week haul-out in May. We will work long hours for those 2 weeks on a lot of different projects (e.g., raising our waterline, changing some thru hull hoses, bottom paint, hull wax, transmission oil, zincs, wallas diesel heater overhaul), plus the entire week before the haul out I will be running around purchasing what we need to do the jobs.

Despite feeling aheada, some of the "partially finished" items will take a lot of time to finish.

We're in a good place. A focused place, but a good place. Our stress levels are way lower than most people about to start cruising because we are going to be in and out of major towns in BC and WA over the next year so if we've forgotten something big, it's not a big deal. All we need to do is to be ready to cruise full time locally and we have enough experience under our belt to know what we want for that. Actually, if all we do is install our batteries and do the haul-out maintenance we are good to go for local cruising. Everything else is for our emotional health (e.g. SSB, HAM) or for long-term (e.g., medical kit and immunizations, SSB, etc).

We're saving some big decisions until next Spring when we will have another long haul out, maybe 4 weeks, before heading South. We'll pull the mast, re-do the rigging and decide on some other big pieces of kit - or put them off longer.

3 months...wowzers.


Victor Alpha Seven Lima India Victor

I'm a HAM!

(insert obligatory pork joke here)

After way too many hours paying for and then hardly using an online site, studying free online guide material I found randomly, then giving up trying to understand it, instead working to memorize a 1000 question bank from which I knew they would draw 100 questions and taking the practice exam with Industry Canada's exam generator until I consistently passed above 80%, I have passed the Amateur Radio Operators Basic Exam with Honours which gives me full access to the HAM bands so I can use our SSB radio for weather/email for free at sea.

This was the most studying I have done for an exam where I only needed an 80% or better since my third semester of graduate level statistics...and I'm a good test taker...and I memorize quickly. It's such a silly exam filled almost entirely with information that will be useless to someone who is simply going to use a radio at sea.

Question: If a slightly longer parasitic element is placed 0.1 wavelength away from an HF dipole antenna, what effect will this have on the antenna's radiation pattern?

Answer: A major lobe will develop in the horizontal plane, away from the parasitic element, toward the dipole.

I would tell you exactly how much I care about a parasitic element near a dipole but that kind of language doesn't suit a lady public blog.

I feel such a sense of accomplishment though because this has been a big item on our to do list since we first started a cruising to do list and this makes it particularly nice to cross off as finished.

Plus, now I can put a cool call sign on my signature like all of the other cruiser supergeeks (that I proudly consider myself part of).

My second choice for a call sign was VA7DRG because I was Dr. G in another life but it is tres clunky and so I let myself get talked out of it.

Yours truly, Livia, VA7LIV

Magnum’s Customer Service


We set out to buy an inverter to satisfy our AC needs which at the time were to recharge computers and other minor electronics like phones. Keeping in mind the goal was always to minimize our AC use.

So, after looking at the inverters at the Seattle Boat Show, even though we had a Xantrex True Charge 20 and liked it, hearing bad customer service from Xantrex we decided to go with Magnum after talking to them, on a hunch. The inverter looked good and we felt more comfortable with the dealers, not because we found any particular reviews about Magnum. We went with a pure sine wave inverter for our electronics and chose the MMS series 1200W. We decided to go pure sine because we heard modified sine may affect your computer but later we realized this is probably not founded, as per Nigel Calder’s book, but that’s what we went with at the time.

After leaving the inverter in the box for about 6 months, we decided to install it. Found out the cables and other stuff needed would be about $200 more of supplies. Installation diagrams and instructions were sufficient, no surprises, and it took about 2 days to complete the installation.

Everything worked as planned but we realized we had an unusual noise coming from the charger when the batteries were close to fully charged. When contacted, Magnum took us seriously and decided to help us investigate by sending us pictures and asking for a few tests. When not satisfied with the noise, they decided to replace our inverter/charger at no cost.

I reinstalled the new one to find out it was overcharging our batteries and would not go on standby so had to be manually turned off. Again when contacted Magnum decided that was not right and decided to send us a new one.

And again, the same story. The same problems. After questioning our installation and our capabilities and requesting pictures, they realized that there was obviously a problem with their new revision of their software and sent us a new motherboard and asked if we would be willing to help them figure out the problem. We became their guinea pig for their new software. The motherboard fixed the problem and Magnum realized there was a software problem because of this. Magnum realized they had cost us a lot of time and money and we had saved them a lot of money by figuring out the problem, so they decided to upgrade our inverter to the MS2000 which is a 2000W inverter and a 100Amp charger – versus the 1200W inverter and 50Amp charger which we had purchased. We initially declined the new inverter because of the need to re-buy bigger cables and re-do the installation because this had been going on for 3 months and we wanted the installation over. Then we realized that the increase in the charger capacity would be a big deal for our cruising and so we decided to go ahead accept the new inverter and install it.

Magnum Inverter

We were initially not happy with the new inverter because the inverter was drawing 5 Amps to run itself. After calling Magnum and doing another test we realized it was now, after some use, drawing 1.2 Amps as advertised and I have been happy ever since.

We also installed an MMR-C remote control head so that we could program the charger as we want. We have a temperature sensor as well and we think it improves the battery charging and it is nice to know remotely what temperature the batteries are at. It gives me a sense of security.

Magnum’s product is working as advertised in the brochure and trouble free. It works awesome with our Honda EU2000i generator. One problem with the new system is we lost the ability to charge two battery banks without using the parallel switch. The Xantrex True Charge 20 would do this. Magnum sells a piece of kit you can add on that will do the same but obviously more money than I was ready to pay for – I think it is another $200. This is a minor loss for so much gained.

We are really happy with the customer service. We don’t know if the service will be like that when we are across the Pacific ocean but we know at least while in N America they will help us as much as they can. Every time we buy a piece of kit we take into consideration customer service when deciding what to buy.

- Carol

Lessons learned

Windborne in the Puget Sound has a great series on lessons learned from potentially dangerous sailing situations. I love it when people take the time to do something constructive and productive within whatever subculture I'm involved with at the time.

As he describes it:
Years ago when I was a kid, I used to read Flying magazine. I particularly enjoyed a long-running series of articles entitled "I Learned About Flying From That." Each article was written by a pilot, who humbly admitted to having made a mistake, and then having lived, told about it in the hopes that others would not have to make the same mistake. I thought then that it was a good format, and I still think that now. This series of postings is my attempt to recreate that article series with a new subject and new technology.

(If you would like to help others to learn from your mistakes, please send your article to: WindborneInPugetSound@gmail.com)

At his suggestion, I wrote a guest post about my lessons learned about entering fog from my first time single handing. At some point in the future I'll write another.

- Livia

Installing our Balmar alternator

Although we decided that our main engine will not be used to charge our batteries, as per Calder’s and other diesel gurus advice that running your diesel to charge your battery takes a lot of life out of it, we still wanted a spare alternator and we wanted a better performance alternator than the stock alternator.
Livia did a lot of research and concluded that the most used one, although a lot more expensive, was the Balmar. Since customer service was important to us we realized from SSCA and other forums that people had complaints against Balmar for customer service and also we realized that as per our research people burn through their alternator from using them at full power for too long. With that in mind we decided to go with West Marine to alleviate customer service issues knowing that West Marine will back up their product while we are in N America. Waited for a good West Marine sale and purchased the alternator 6 series for the Volvo, the 621, 100 Amp alternator which is the max that our engine can take without any modification to it. Also, knowing that an alternator takes horse power away from your engine, already limited in engine power we didn’t want to affect the main reason of having an engine, to take you places.
Installation-wise, instructions provided by Balmar were very weak because I believe that they don’t want people to install it themselves. They want a certified electrician to do it. Many hours were spent researching on the net and books like Casey and Calder and also with our Volvo engine manual to figure out who is who in the zoo. By the way, we like Calder's book but Don Casey’s book “Sailboat Electrics Simplified” was better at explaining the terminal designation part of the installation than Calder’s. Once everything was figured out, taking the old alternator off was a piece of cake and putting the new one in was straightforward but with one time consuming hang up. The original bolt from the stock alternator was too big for the spacer provided by Balmar to fit the Volvo Penta saddle. Good enough, we are walking distance from a boat store so it did not cause too much delay.
Because we are going AGM batteries an external regulator was necessary to provide the right charging pattern. We bought the ARS-5 from Balmar. One good recommendation from Balmar was to install a three way switch for an emergency switch to switch from external regulator to internal regulator in case of failure of the external regulator which have a tendency to fail as per forums after our research.
It worked right away. We obviously see an improvement in the charging. We reduced the capacity of the alternator with the regulator because we currently have a small battery bank and don’t want to run the alternator too hot because the alternator runs hot when it runs full power compared to the stock one.
Now we are going to clean the old stock one, seal it up into a bag, and have it as a spare alternator which we would not feel comfortable to go without.
My first post!
- Carol

Questions for Cruisers

((Edit: see The Interview With A Cruiser Project for more details))

I would love some help.

I'm starting a new project and I am generating a list of question that armchair sailors and cruisers-in-training-or-in-preparation would like to have answered by experienced cruisers.

By experienced cruisers I mean people who have been cruising outside of Canada and the US for more than 2 years full-time.

The questions would be simple, one line, and open-ended (not yes-no questions). The same questions would be asked of multiple cruisers.

If someone else were going to do the legwork for you, what questions would you want to have answered?

Becher Bay, British Columbia


The weekend was so picture perfect that we broke our camera. Well, actually I broke the camera 6 months ago by dropping it in the sand but it limped along until the first day of this trip when our poor Canon SD stopped working for good. I have a few pre-freeze pictures and some low quality stills I took with our video camera.


Our trip to Becher Bay was much more interesting than we expected. We were medium excited about going to Becher Bay. We had not been here before and it was nice to see a new place but even after we dropped anchor I told Carol that it was picturesque, and I would come again, but it wasn’t anything to hurry back to. There are so many jaw drop beautiful places in BC and WA that we have high standards for pretty.


However two things changed our mind: our crab catch and East Sooke Regional Park.

Carol setting our crab trap from our West Marine brand double inflatable kayak (with backbone):


On crab trap round one we caught two legal sized crabs but one was female so we had one tasty appetizer:


The day after dropping anchor, we kayaked around Wolf Island and across Campbell Cove to East Sooke park. We beached the kayak, changed out of our foul weather bibs and PFDs and hiked some absolutely gorgeous rugged coastline with perfect sandy beaches. There were not too many people around although I imagine that the beach is a madhouse in the summer.

On the way to the park we passed some seals sunning on the rocks. A common sight around here.


On crab trap round two we caught 5 crabs, all male, two of legal size and we had a late afternoon post hike feast:


Saturday was our “100 days to go party”. At Carol’s university there was a traditional party for seniors when there was only 100 days until graduation. We decided to celebrate our 100 days to go by doing a mini wine tasting. We bought 3 bottles of wine, one each from Spain, France and Italy, put them in brown bags, poured them into 3 wine glasses and wrote tasting notes in our logbook before unveiling the bottles. For the first time I think we differed substantially from each other in our rankings. Two of the three wines changed dramatically from opening to breathing and with the meal. I’m going to go buy a few more bottles of the Spanish (my favorite).

Sunday was a part lazy day, part boat project day. The wind forecast and the head cold I was developing sent us back on Monday instead of Tuesday. The good news is that we were able to sail most of the way there and the entire way back.

Anchorage notes: Power cables strung across bay behind Wolf Island – anchorage in Murder Bay is very rolly with any swell.

- Livia

Blog binge distillation

I read far too many blogs and I am certain that I am going to have some sort of internet withdrawal crisis when we leave the dock in just over 3 months.

Three recent tidbits selected carefully from my binging for your viewing pleasure:

A laugh-out-loud post about buying your wife a birthday gift from SV Sereia.

Our good friends aboard SV Io who left last year and are now in Mexico swimming with whale sharks. If you don't have time for the entire video don't miss the mouth footage at around 2:25.

SV Kiwi Roa's trip to Patagonia. In particular scroll about half way down for the glacier photo. Unbelievable.

The journey to expertise

We are not experts by far but we are substantially less stupid ignorant inexperienced than 3 years ago when we bought this boat.

In fact, we now have a small cache of boat wisdom to share with others. The kind of tenuous, only partially tested wisdom where you fully expect to change your mind and might even do so mid-sentence, but wisdom nonetheless.

We've been able to share that wisdom a few times lately and it feels good to give back. It also feels good to not flounder, to have some bedrock of experience to stand on even if it is only our experience and relatively unformed.

Sometimes we are just sharing information with others who have the same level of experience as us, but a few times lately we've been able to talk to people who are interested in buying a boat and preparing it to cruise...and we actually had something wise to say to them.

Or at least we felt wise while saying it. Maybe we'll change our minds next week.

- Livia

Sailing for 5 days

As proof that liveaboards, and people very close to cruising and in the throes of boat prep, still sail I thought I would let you know that we are happily heading out for a 5 day trip.

Current plan is Becher Bay on today's easterly winds and then to hunker down in that protected anchorage as some strong westerlies move through.

Photo courtesy of Peter Nash Real Estate.

Other "plans" include celebrating our "100 days to go" on Saturday, napping, studying for my HAM licence, cooking nice meals, hiking and rowing the dinghy around.

Trip report to follow. Our blog will "update itself" over the next few days.

- Livia


When we were deciding whether to do start this crazy voyage, to sell our house, to retire and to sail a small fiberglass bubble around in an ocean of water, one book I found particularly inspirational was Rolf Potts' Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel.

This excerpt from the book came up today in a conversation with a friend and I thought it worth sharing. I, for one, do not believe that long-term travel would be fun for most people. However, for us, the book was motivating and resonated with what we were thinking and feeling.

Declare Your Independence

Of all the outrageous throwaway lines one hears in movies, there is one that stands out for me. It doesn't come from a madcap comedy, an esoteric science-fiction flick, or a special-effects-laden action thriller. It comes from Oliver Stone's Wall Street, when the Charlie Sheen character — a promising big shot in the stock market — is telling his girlfriend about his dreams.

"I think if I can make a bundle of cash before I'm thirty and get out of this racket," he says, "I'll be able to ride my motorcycle across China."

When I first saw this scene on video a few years ago, I nearly fell out of my seat in astonishment. After all, Charlie Sheen or anyone else could work for eight months as a toilet cleaner and have enough money to ride a motorcycle across China. Even if they didn't yet have their own motorcycle, another couple months of scrubbing toilets would earn them enough to buy one when they got to China.

The thing is, most Americans probably wouldn't find this movie scene odd. For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead — out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don't really need — we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called "lifestyle," travel becomes just another accessory — a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.

You can read more of this chapter here.

- Livia

I did it all for the Nook

For Christmas my true love gave to me, the ereader of my choosing.

I chose Nook.


Why did I choose the Nook? All of the ereaders have their pros and cons, but if you want to be able to check out library ebooks then your choice is the Nook or the Sony because the Kindle hates America libraries. Between the Nook and the Sony I chose the Nook because it is cheaper for the wireless version and I liked the expandable memory and removable battery which Sony doesn't have. There are good reasons to prefer the Kindle, particularly if you are most often in the US near big cities and can take advantage of the 3G downloads. For someone online on a boat those features aren't as valuable. There are also good reasons to prefer the Sony - primarily because the Nook is currently buggy software wise.

Registering the Nook is painful if you aren't near 3G because you have to go to a BN store because you can use wireless to download books but you can't register with wireless. How annoying. I've also had the Nook freeze twice requiring a restart.

Still, I love it, squeeze it and call it my own.

I have hundreds of free books already. In addition to free online sites like Google and Project Gutenberg I have also downloaded free SciFi from Baen Free Library and I have successfully checked out a library book from a library in the US while in Canada.

The other thing I love about the Nook is that it functions like any USB drive. I drag and drop all non-DRM (i.e., digital rights managed) items like .pdf cruising guides posted on forums I read or pictures that I want on the Nook.

For DRM items like copyright protected library book checkouts of Adobe ePub materials, I use the free Adobe Digital solutions program, check out the book and then using the program drag the book onto the Nook. And it just works.

I can read in the sun. I need light at night because it works on reflected light. It feels like a heavy paperback in weight. I don't find page turning slow because I automatically have started hitting the page turn as I'm finishing reading the last line.

Thank you Carol!

- Livia

FAQ #5: Where are you storing your stuff? OR Was it freeing to get rid of so much stuff?

By the time we leave the dock we will only have the stuff that fits on our boat, plus 3 small legal sized filing boxes of mementos and 2 doors from this boat at my parents and maybe, for the first year of cruising in WA/BC, my car stashed until we sell it.

Basically, we are not storing stuff because we don't know when or if we would want that stuff again. Remember, the plan is "as long as it is fun". If we need stuff again because we move back on land, we'll buy it.

Was it freeing? Amazingly so. I love getting rid of stuff still and am excited when we have another pile to take off the boat or when another stage of our transition life is over and I can get rid of more stuff related to it.

For example, there are formal events that we still need to dress for so I kept a few dresses. Each event means a dress worn and another dress I can get rid of (yes, I'm keeping a few, but that clothes folder is getting smaller and smaller). I also realize how much you can buy when you need it. I bought a pair of $4 Ann Taylor strappy heels at a thrift store for the last formal because I hadn't kept a black pair. I'll get rid of those again before June.

Do I miss my stuff? No. I miss people in Colorado. I miss having a sand pit in my back yard for BBQs. I miss having a big entertaining space. But as long as my current life has a high fun-to-suck ratio, and I foresee more of that same ratio in the future, then I don't spend much time second guessing what I've left.

- Livia


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


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner