December 7th, 2018

Today is also Pearl Harbor Day.  I suppose it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything.  At least here.

I’ve posted on other blogs, facebook, and our FB groups, but not here.

So, here’s December’s post.

Tonight, we go see our Granddaughter, Cassie, in a play, Death of a Salesman (I think).  High School rendition, so should be interesting.

JoAnne has been through two chemotherapy sessions.  A portion of each of those two were cancelled due, mainly, to low blood cell counts.  The first session was about six hours long. The second part of that session was supposed to last an hour, and was a week after the first infusion.  Unfortunately, she was suffering suddenly from a tooth ache, which turned also into an infection… likely due to lowered white blood cell numbers.

The second session last week on a Thursday went well.  But her blood work on this Wednesday (5 December) showed her white, red blood cells and the building blocks for those things (along with other chemicals I’m not as familiar with) were at a very low level.  Thus, they cancelled the second infusion (which should have been yesterday).

They want to give her a drug, called Newlasta, which will help to regenerate white blood cells, but it takes 14 days to function, and they need to give it after the second infusion.  So, that’s become a problem.  Now, she gets one more blood draw in a week or so (next Thursday), and then a doctor’s visit on the following Monday at which time we will be asking some questions, and hopefully there will be a “new plan” to get this accomplished correctly.

The next infusion will be after the doctor’s visit.  The GOOD news in all this, is the CA-125 blood test (Cancer Antigen test) is showing a drastic reduction in count.  It went from just over 70 to 50.  Her last tests over the course of time have been, June 2017 the CA-125 was 21, and a year later, this past June was 50.  This caused concern with us and the doctors.  In August it shot up to the mid-60s, and therefore the PET scan was ordered.

The PET scan showed not one, but TWO areas of concern.  An area somewhere between her liver and kidneys and a node on her left lung.

The next CA-125 tests were 68 and then 71 in September and October respectively.  (I might be off on the dates, exactly, but you get the gist of it).

In between all of this (September to Present), we’ve made three trips across country, back and forth, ran from a hurricane, visited Florida and came back to Colorado, where the chemo has commenced.

Two sessions are through, with some complications, but still plugging along.  We’re still very much alive, and still “Adventuring” when we can.

20 December should be our “half way point” on Chemo.  Meaning she is starting the third session.  Whether or not we get some stuff tacked on at the end, we’re not sure yet, but we’re going to be checking on that when the doctor’s visit comes to pass.  That will, if things go well, give us 3 more sessions or nine more weeks with chemo in those nine weeks, healing and doctor’s visits, blood work and dozens of miles on the car back and forth to the hospitals.

In the mean time, we miss our ship, Adventure, very much and find ourselves wishing for the house to rock us to sleep at night.  Instead, we have cold, snow on occasion, next door neighbors who can be loud (in the middle of the night for some reason….) hundreds of people everywhere, and us trying to avoid germs. HA!

Tonight, as I mentioned, we’re going to a HS play, where we will likely be exposed to a lot of germs again, because people always cough, sneeze and aren’t the cleanest of creatures.  JoAnne will bring a mask just in case, but hopefully won’t have to use it.  Not, that we honest believe that a mask is going to actually STOP germs from getting into your system anyway.  Doesn’t seem to help at hospitals where there are super bugs…

In the mean time, she’s been crocheting, reading and helping run the various Sailing and Cruising forums she is Admin on, and I’ve been re-learning Morse Code (I’m very rusty at it), and have built two radios to work on Ham Radio frequencies (20 and 40 meters) but haven’t an antenna to connect, and I’ve also been writing a complete role play game campaign for “Stars Without Number” ( a role playing game, set in the milled of the year 3200, in space for some friends in the Southport area).  All of this to “keep busy”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really have room, nor the time, to grab my charts and sit down and work out courses for the Bahamas and beyond, but I figure it’s likely better to do that just before we go.  At this point, we’ve decided that if we can get back in late March, we will plan a trip down to Bahamas for the Spring, and head back before Hurricane Season hits… and we have a couple of friends who want to go along, who are both sailors.  It will help immensely to get us all there safely, and through that big hurdle of “several days of sailing”, so we can head home on our own when the time comes.

Last thing, I’m personally working on is my Celestial Navigation again.  I really want to grasp that stuff.  I think I’ve mostly got it, but now, I really need to practice it.

That is all for now, friends.  Until next time, Fair Winds!

 

 

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ICW: Southport, NC

Wrightsville Beach: We left out of Wrightsville Beach on a bright, sunny morning with temperatures in the 50s and a light breeze blowing.  We were headed for Southport are of North Carolina.  We’d spoken to several marinas because we wanted to be on a dock with wifi access for a couple of days before heading on to Charleston.

The trip out of the anchorage to the ICW was uneventful.  Engine was running well, systems all functional.  We came down the Cape Fear River from Snow’s Cut, making very good time, the current was with us, and the tide was leaving so we were making 5 to 6.5 knots most of the time.  A catamaran named Necessity, a delivery crew en route to Florida.  We had a short conversation VHF and bid one another adieu.

They were moving along at a decent clip and managed to get to Southport long before us, got fuel and were passing us heading for the ocean when we rounded into the channel.  The skipper hollered over saying, “We’re going outside, Fair Winds!”  I waved back and headed into the channel.

The current coming out grabbed the front of the bow and shoved us to starboard, a lot harder than I would have expected.  Our speed dropped from 5.5 knots to 2 suddenly.  I gave the engine some throttle and brought the bow back around.  A weird vibration started that I’d not heard before.  Once I got into the channel I backed down the throttle again and the engine settled.

I tapped the button for the bow thrusters and found them no longer working… again.  Similar issue as I had a few weeks ago.  Just didn’t fire up for some reason.  Still isn’t today and am not sure why.  I suspect the controller though at this point, but it’s possible the works up in the front of the boat has some issue.

Now, I’m sure I can get into the dock though, with no issues, so I call the marina, notify them I’m a couple miles out and have the bridge in sight.  I advise I will need a dock hand to assist with the tie off because I don’t want JoAnne trying to get off the boat in this current.  “No problem, I’ll be there” says the dockmaster.

We come in and I line up and “land” gently next to the dock and hold her steady while JoAnne hands off the two lines he’s asked for and once he has one secured, I jump off and grab the stern line.  After moving the lines where he wants us to sit for our visit, I finish tying it all off.  A/C Power is connected and we’re all good.

Nothing out of the ordinary and no problems.

So I think.

Engine Issues: Of course, the weather was good for two days and we’re staying three nights.  No problem.  Then the weather reports start coming in about rain, thunderstorms and high winds off shore.  We’re supposed to leave on Sunday morning but the weather was going to be crappy, and we don’t want to deal with it going off shore or sitting in a new anchorage for a few days and decide to extend our stay here on the docks.

It rained cats and dogs, and assorted other critters for almost a full 24 hours.  I watched thundershowers roll through on the radar to our south, missing us by about 20 miles… but slamming the anchorage are where we’d have been.  Ok, good call on that I guess.

Today is Wednesday, 7 December 2016 – Pearl Harbor Day – and we were supposed to pull out this morning.  That didn’t happen.

Now, this IS a sail boat, and in general, you like to use the SAILS to move the boat, and the truth is I CAN do that.  But short tacking down the ICW to get back out to the ocean isn’t precisely my idea of “smooth sailing” or fun, especially not sailing it alone.  With JoAnne’s back injury last year, she’s not going to be shifting rapidly to move lines or for that matter, drive much.  If we had an extra crew or two aboard to assist, it would probably be easy enough to do with a bit of practice with a new crew.  But, this is a pretty large boat — a ship really — a heavy, slow, ponderous, if you will, “beast” that does what she wishes sometimes when you don’t wish it, and usually when least expected.

Thus, being a sailboat with an auxiliary engine means… well, we want the engine functional at all times.  When you don’t need it, but especially when you do.

So last evening (late afternoon actually), as is my usual course of action before heading out the next day, I started doing system and engine checks hoping to leave this morning.  Bow thrusters, still not working and not sure why.  Fuse is good… but I can do without bow thrusters and really need the engine working.  I check the engine oil, coolant levels, belts, look for anything out of the ordinary like leaks and strange things that weren’t there before.  Added a bit of oil (as we have a constant drip under the engine which appears to be a gasket that the mechanic said was notorious for leaking anyway) and looked at coolant.  I checked the alternator belt and something caught my eye.

A tiny crack.  There is a a bracket that is mounted to the starboard side of the engine, through which a bolt holding the alternator runs, and there are two places it runs.  This piece was “half ass” welded to the bigger piece.  After examining it carefully, this appears to have been a makeshift repair at some point in the past, and not an actual factory job.  Anyway, this piece broke.  So, the alternator is holding on by one side and not the other.  The crack is fresh.  The steel shattered.

I let the marina know who got me in touch with Snyder Marine, down the street.  Jason, the technician was here in 15 minutes or so.  He looked over the engine and said something about the oil leak and then removed the bracket.  We looked closely and sure enough, the bracket had a flaw in it, and quite possibly was already “rebuilt” once or re-welded.  There had been an old crack at the weld, and there was rust there.  The rest of the crack extended from the old, weakened spot and the vibration I’d heard coming in at the entrance to the channel was quite likely the alternator breaking right at the point I put extra pressure on the engine.  We started the engine.

Jason, then found another problem.  Our exhaust manifold is leaking, a gasket has failed there as well.  So, he’s working on getting us the right parts and will, with luck have us under way sometime in the next day or so.  The oil leak is coming from the air intake area, and a second one elsewhere.  I’ll get the details later when he returns.

The Tech is trying to get a new part for us, and had to come in this morning to locate the serial number.  I never found it, but he finally did.  Back of the engine, in a difficult location to see.  Figures.  Wrote it down though in the log book!

We have had some pretty sun sets here, and have seen some beautiful boats.  Here are a few of those images.

Majestic Dream on the dock

Majestic Dream

Down the docks from us is a Vagabond 47, pictured above.  Skip and Louise are the owners, and like us, are headed south.  They are due to pull out today at noon and head off shore for Charleston, SC.  They are supposed to drop us a note saying they arrived safely.  A boat just like this one was in Norfolk with us last year.  Apparently, I’ve either deleted the pictures or put them “someplace safe” and forgotten where I put them.

Sunset at the South Harbour Village Marina across the ICW

Different Sunset, Different Day, ICW North Carolina

Amateur Radio: Side note on Ham Radio.  Got in contact with my old friend Rick Hendricks, KE0GB from Colorado Springs and we’ve been chatting a bit about trying to make radio contact, which so far hasn’t happened.  The bands haven’t really been opened to Colorado Springs lately.  We’ve tried packet, and psk31 digital modes but nothing yet.  Have to get the right conditions.

I’ve also tried getting Winlink2000 (RMSExpress) working under Linux, and though it “sort of works” it doesn’t work well, or properly.  I just don’t have the time to fiddle with Linux and figure out why things aren’t working right, but I’m sure it’s because it’s a windows program running under WINE.  I’d be better off drinking wine and washing our windows I suppose rather than wrack my brain on operating systems. /shrug

Departure: We’re planning our departure here as soon as the engine is repaired again and we’re talking about making the trip to Little River and anchor.  It’s a short day trip, 35 miles perhaps with the in/out of the channels and then go on the next day for Charleston.  At this point, I’m strongly considering, with a good window, to make for Florida and spend the 2-3 days sailing day and night.

JoAnne doesn’t seem to be ready to spend time standing a watch though, but if she can stand a 2-4 hour watch, just making sure we’re not getting run down and mostly on course, not over running shoals or getting whale-whacked mostly in the day time, I can handle an all-night watch and nap through it for a few days.  I’ve done this sort of thing in the military where I got very little sleep for days on end.  But, I’m getting older now.

One more temporary crew member to assist me with watches would be best.  But, we can do this. We’ll debate it more as we go.

Until later…

Fair Winds!

Edit:  Just received a call from Jason about the part.  Apparently this particular piece is obsolete.  They are going to have to make one for me.  Oh… goodie.  I will wait and see I guess how it looks.

Edit, Bow Thrusters: Having a beautiful, sunny afternoon here on the dock, I did some rearranging in the fore cabin, added beer and soda to the fridge making a little room.  I removed some boxes that were no longer holding things and I tore apart the navigation pod (which was no mean feat, not having the proper tools – they have special security screws, but fortunately I happened to have a couple of those special bits and found the right one.  I’ll be replacing the screws with something I can put in and out easier next time!)

In any case, the controller is what I thought was “acting up” – or more accurately, not acting at all.  I was still getting power at the device because if you press the power button, a tiny beep-beep-beep sound would happen, with the beeps being about 8 seconds apart.  That’s not normal.  Normal operation when you press the button is a fast beeping sound, and you have about 10 seconds to press the button a second time.  The device then sends a Morse code lettter (R) for “received” I guess.   When you turn it off it usually sends “SK” – with is di di dit da di dah – again Morse code for “End of transmission”.

Anyway, inside is a circuit board with a handful of parts, all surface mount chip technology, a couple of transistors and a microprocessor.  I cleaned the circuit board with alcohol because there was a bit of some kind of mold or something.  I assume it might be conductive.  Also cleaned the connectors, a large, four-pin, specially keyed connector so you can’t plug it back in incorrectly.

That fixed the issue.  The controller fires right up now, and the bow thrusters are fully functional again! Yay!

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Why that title?  Because I did things yesterday, today and will do some tomorrow.

Yesterday we had some issues with wifi.  The antenna attached to the Bullit broke.  Snapped right off inside the connector, necessitating me to dig out the soldering equipment to do repairs.  When it went down, I was well in the middle of running cables over from the radio to the external antenna on the boat.

Basically, we have a “random length” wire, that comes from the tuner over to the insulated backstay (one of the wires holding the main mast up).  I had to dig through a lot of junk to find some wire to run through the bulkhead to get the antenna connected.  In the mean time, the wifi stopped working and the wife was asking about it, or complaining really, because she was trying to play a game and kept getting disconnected.

So, stopped working the HF radio stuff, repaired the wifi antenna and got that back up and running.

In the middle of all of this, I got a message on my phone.  We can’t get calls, no coverage, so we’re connected to the wifi…. which wasn’t working.  Therefore, the second the wifi came back, the message came through.  They stated I had a large box awaiting me at the office.  Turned out to be the new C-Head composting toilet.  Collected that.  More on that later.

Once I got the HF rigged up, I realized I’d lost my control cable somewhere.  The control cable goes between the tuner and the HF rig to switch bands and is an absolute necessity on a random antenna like we’re using.  I remembered that when I was in Colorado Springs in the winter, I’d looked for the missing cable inside the trailer and storage we still have (my kids are keeping that stuff).  When I didn’t find the cable, I had purchased the DIN connectors and placed them into my electronic gear I carried back and forth all the time.

Fortunately, along with some wiring I needed to complete the HF installation, I happened to locate some 5 conductor spare wire that I was able to use to build the control cable.  So, today, the HF radio is working, and Wifi is back online.

This morning I opened up the new box of stuff, the C-Head Toilet.

It appears that this installation is going to be easy.  The toilet will not only fit, it will sit perfectly in the aft head.  I went through all the instructions, directions, parts, parts list and read everything.  The hardest part will be the removal of the old toilet, the plumbing, etc.

So, yesterday I did the HF.  Today, I examined all the parts of the toilet, tomorrow, I’ll probably start the installation in the head.

 

Of Toilets, Sails and Electric Power

Sails:

Three jobs I want done.  Sails repaired (the UV damage I can’t really fix, I’ll need a sail loft to do, as I have no sewing machine and I’m not sure how to go about replacing pieces of the sails yet).  The toilets; time for a composting head.  And power.  I like power.  JoAnne and I have our computers, my ham radio gear and we like to have lighting at night most evenings for reading.

Today I spoke to a local sail loft, and someone will come out to the boat this week to assist me in unsticking and checking the internal rigging for the mizzen.  It’s been giving me fits since the first day.  It’s pretty stuck again.  Maybe it’s me.  Maybe it’s the internal rigging.  I did have it working once pretty well, but it’s acting up again.

The main and mizzen are both suffering pretty badly on the clew where it hangs out of the mast.  On the main mast furling (for those who don’t know) the clew (the bottom corner part of the head sail farthest from the mast) sticks out about 10-12 inches when the sail is rolled all the way in.  That part of this particular sail has no UV cover or protection and it’s sat for many years in the sun.

Amazingly, the sails inside are clean and pretty.  Though, could use a good washing.

The mizzen sail (again, for the non-sailors that follow us, the rear most mast on the boat) is the same way (and the mechanism is the same, only smaller).

When I talked to Jerry from the sail loft he told me I could either remove the sails and bring them down and they’d price it out for me, or someone could come to the ship and assist if necessary.  When I explained the problems with the mizzen, he said he’d probably come out personally.

At this point, I’m going to hand over the working jib, main and mizzen and not worry about the genoa.  I let it out and examined it pretty carefully again today.  I’ve had it up and down a few times and looked it over.  The only real wear is at the clew where you attach the sheets.  However, it’s nothing at all to worry about right now.

Before we head for the Bahamas (under sail we hope) we will have decent sails.

Toilets:

On the toilets.  I really like the electric head.  But, I HATE that it uses electricity.  I hate that there is a holding tank.  I hate the plumbing.  I hate when we have to use it and put anything in the tank.  We have literally no smells aboard the boat except when the tank gets something added to it.  The tanks are old (original) and are stainless steel.  Worst possible thing they could be for holding waste.  Even stainless steel “stains” around urine.  I don’t even want to think about what it will be like to remove that tank….

On Facebook in the Sailing and Cruising group, and on several of the online sailing groups, composting toilets have been discussed to death.  There are two, absolute views on them.

A) Hateful, evil, nasty

B) Loving relationships

Those who use them on their boats love them.  Those who don’t like them have either had little experience with them or none at all.  Of course, like everyone else, I’m somewhat generalizing, but this is truly what I have read from the masses online.  Of the several people we’ve met using them, and having them on a cruising boat we found that without exception they state they are 1) clean, 2) do NOT smell, 3) do not have to worry about if your Y-valve is locked or not, 4) easy to clean and care for.

Of those whom I’ve personally had discussions who didn’t like them, they have said “They stink”, “they are nasty”, “They can flip upside down” (so can your boat with a holding tank), “I wouldn’t own one”, “I’ve never used one” and various other remarks that lead one to believe they are horrible.  But, in almost ALL cases, there is no experience with them at all, or minimal.

In all, we’ve probably spent a couple of hundred hours of research, reading and talking to the various companies, and friends about this subject.  One one never imagine having to talk about poop so much.

Finally though, we decided that we’re going to replace ONE of the toilets on the boat with a composting toilet.  We’re going to go with the C-head – because it’s half the cost of the others.  But it also uses easy to find parts if something goes bad or breaks.  The truth is I could go up the hard ware store and buy a bucket, some play wood, some glass and build my own given the pictures and knowledge I have now.  I just don’t have a full service wood shop on the boat (though I have a lot of tools) I don’t relish the idea of building something and taking a couple weeks to do it and then maybe mismeasuring one thing.

So we will purchase one and install it.  If all goes well, we’ll replace the second before the time to depart in the fall.  Sometime next year I’ll have the boat hauled when we do our painting and cut out the ancient tanks, plumbing and remove those through hulls and have the hull repaired, fared and painted.  That will remove several through hulls and the associated plumbing, and a large space in the bilge will be emptied out for us.  Next year.

Electricity:

What a mess.  My house bank is really for the windlass and the bow thrusters.  Everything else in the house actually appears to run on the starter battery.  Oh. My. Wow.

I will need to get under the bed, the aft head, the bilge, and the port bulkheads to locate wires and figure out what goes where and draw schematics.  What a mess.  I want to add solar and a wind generator, but I’m not even sure where I’ll put solar panels on this boat.  No real place to do it.  The taffrail on the aft might hold them, except for the mizzen mast rigging.  The davits might hold them, IF I have something built up above them.

A wind generator can be mounted on the mizzen.  Except for the big issue of making connections to everything, needed a specialized charge controller to handle both solar and wind generator.

As much as I hate to do it, I’m going to have to find a consultant to assist me to dig through the wiring and figure this mess out.  I’m not sure this is going to be an easy thing to do anyway.  I DO know I can rewiring some things, I just don’t have a good handle on it yet.  Going to take me a few days of measuring voltages and tracing wires.

The toilet, in comparison to the electrical issues is going to be a cake wake.

New Book: Basic Survival and Communications Skills

I wrote a book.  Just thought you’d all like to know.  It’s called:

Basic Survival and Communications Skills in the Aftermath

The current Amazon link is at Amazon

The publication date was 30 November 2014, so it released on Sunday (yesterday as I write this).  The book was written specifically for the Kindle in mind, but will eventually be released to other eReaders in the next few months.

Here’s the description:

Nuclear war looms, an errant asteroid is headed for Earth, Yellowstone is showing signs of an impending explosion. Will be survivors. Are you going to be one of them? If so, how are you going to survive and contact your friends and loved ones?

The world has no set time of destruction and it might never come, or next Thursday while you’re on your way home from work might be the very day the killing blow comes. Will you be prepared?

Join the author in an imaginative exploration of several scenarios of “What Might Happen” and practical ideas on mitigation of the “Aftermath”. Survival isn’t always about stocking food and water in a mountain hideaway, collecting the best knives, guns and most ammo. Discover the important information you’ve been missing! This book was written specifically for the Kindle devices in mind.

For almost fifty years I’ve been working with and around radios and communications.  I started repairing shortwave radios at the ripe old age of Ten.  Since then I made it a career and life style (I’m a ham radio operator and was a military radio communications technician in the USAF).  Even my wife is a ham radio operator.

I wrote this book because, as a prepper and survivalist we’ve always worked to stay in contact with our children and family members.  While not the best at writing letters (sad for a writer, I know) we have always tried to figure out ways to contact our kids if there are emergencies.  We’ve always tried to keep one or another method open to us.

Over the years I’ve taught electronics and radio theory to civilians and military alike and have combined the skills I have in bringing this book to the general public as a way to help folks who aren’t really “radio savvy” or new at survival and preparedness skills (also called, “Prepping”).

The book is the culmination of many years of writing on blogs, forums and answering questions to students, military and civilians.  This book is not an in-depth study of one and only one thing however, it is more of a general purpose, basic/beginner’s book to get you started thinking on the path of how to communicate in emergencies.

Of course the book is colored with “End of the World” scenarios and situations but it should get you thinking.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a sailor or a close friend and possibly feel you’re already an expert at survival.  But I am dead certain that even experts will gather information from this manual that you’ve not considered in the past.  Remember, it is not a rehash of other books.

I urge you all to pick up a copy from Kindle.  The price is $4.99 US and that’s about the price of a couple of beers.  I don’t expect to make millions of dollars, that’s not why the book was written.  But, it will certainly help the cruising kitty if a few folks buy it.  (Hey, at 35% royalties, I’m not making a killing here!)

Keep your eyes open for when I can release it to other readers besides Kindle.  There will be follow ups to this book with more in-depth and detailed answers about radio systems, licensing (for when aliens aren’t invading because we all know we don’t want to break the law!) and I will most likely work on a ham radio specific companion book at a later date.

Fair Winds!

Rick

Cruising Skills

In the five years we’ve been preparing to sell the house and get out cruising we’ve had to learn a LOT of things.  We’ve bought books and read web sites of knowledgeable people, asked questions and performed “hands on, on-the-job” training for many different things.

A while back I created a list of skills that occurred to me as I was trying to decide where to go in my “learning curve” next.  The list is a couple of pages long with several dozen skills listed.  Many things we know “in real life” can translate.  As an example I have traveled to many countries and as a military member had personnel for whom I was responsible on various trips through foreign ports.  We generally (as a team chief) would check in at terminals and customs with the passports for our team members and make sure things went (relatively smoothly); this equates to a skipper checking into and out of a port for example.  Not exactly the same thing with a boat as a traveling crew, but similar enough.

The funny part is that the list of skills required to run a boat on a daily basis is as varied as one can imagine.  In fact when we started down this path the thought didn’t occur to us as first how many things we’d have to know and understand.

From some of my reading I figured out that some folks don’t know enough when they start, but learn as they go.  Others prepare before leaving.  Some never get off the dock because they are still preparing themselves or fitting out their boats; some for years it appears.

In our case we have enough “life skills” that we can equate to something on the boat to at least give us a leg up.

As life goes on the wise become wiser as they realize they don’t have every skill they need to do something, and KNOW they don’t KNOW.

As another example looking at the list there is a category called “Electrical” or “Electrics” for a vessel.  Various people call the electrical “stuff” on a boat by various names.  As an electronics technician for nearly forty years, it’s all the same to me.  Ohms and Watts laws, resistance, current, voltage, soldering, crimping, inductance, capacitance, analog and digital are the same ashore or afloat.  The one thing thrown in that isn’t there ashore is salt water, salt air and dampness.  Those are separate issues with which to contend.  So, I suspect I’m more thoroughly prepared than most for electrical issues.  My list looks like this, and remember these are just a few things that came to mind:

Electrical Skills

  • Lighting
  • Navigation lights
  • Anchor lights
  • Cabin lighting
  • Wiring
  • Power calculations
  • Power panel wiring
  • Solar Power
  • Wind generator
  • Alternator (engine)
  • Inverters
  • Radio systems (VHF, HF)
  • Antennas and the connections to the radios
  • Antenna couplers (tuning units)
  • Stereo systems and speakers
  • Computers
  • Windlass
  • Miscellaneous electrical systems

When you begin to break down the systems on a vessel into smaller units like the above you start to realize that everything isn’t as simple as it seems at first.  In the past few years I read a lot of information on various forums about radios (I’m an expert in that field by the way, more so than any other area probably) and realized that there is so much misinformation out there about many things.  And the numbers of opinions vary to the point of being so wrong and incorrect it’s amazing that some folks are able to “get by” let alone “survive”.  (I’m not just talking about electrical systems here either).

The hardest lesson I learned in the last five years wasn’t how to set an anchor properly, tack, gybe or dock a vessel.  It was learning NOT to listen to others in some instances (many in fact).  I’ve also learned from others by asking questions.  But when one asks a perfectly honest and normal “newb” question and gets twelve different opinions, most of which aren’t even right to begin with, or gets yelled at for asking “stupid questions without looking it up” before you get out of the starting gate, it’s a turn off.

Thus, learning technical material without the aid of teachers is just one thing that makes becoming a cruiser that much more difficult.   From now on, if I want someone’s opinion, I’ll hire a professional not stick my nose into some of the forums.  (There are a couple I like, the people are nice and they aren’t trying to beat you over the head with the ONLY RIGHT way to do something…..)

When talking about electrical connections in a marine environment one has to take into account the quality of the connection and the fact that salt water causes corrosion.  I was once “admonished” that I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to connections.  I pretty much let it go and ignored the insult, since I DO know what I am talking about.

In electrical work you have two types of connections, especially when we’re talking about power delivery systems.  That is, batteries and the connections at them.  You have an “electrical connection” and you have a “mechanical connection”.  The mechanical connection is what MAKES the electrical connection work, and keep working.  Basically if you make a good, solid connection, say a crimp, you will ensure that current flows.  But sometimes those mechanical (crimped) connections in a marine environment will get corrosion.  Corrosion causes resistance thereby reducing the electrical connections effectiveness.  Resistance causes voltage drops, voltage drops across bad connections cause higher current level, heat and  drains batteries more quickly, sometimes to dangerously.  Regardless of how well the mechanical connection will hold down in the battery locker when a vessel is bouncing up and down over time, the resistance is going to increase with the corrosion.  You can crimp that connect as nicely as you like and let a couple of drops of salt water in and in time, it will fail at the crimp.

The “admonishment” came when I suggested soldering the lug to the wire either in addition to, or in lieu of the crimp.  I’m a “solder it” guy.  Went through the old NASA high reliability soldering training (among other types of training for making reliable connections) and learned that my stuff was good enough to go to the moon, into outer space, let alone a marine environment.  So getting chewed out by someone on a forum for disagreeing with HIS method of doing something irks me, and really makes me wonder how some of these people get by.

Now, certainly, I don’t CARE if some guy does things HIS way, on HIS boat; I’m going to do them MY way on MY boat and I’m going to teach the way I learned that something is reliable to others if they ask; people have to make the decision not to be bloody sheep somewhere along the way.  Think for yourselves.

I guess it comes down to opinions versus facts.  I use facts to base my opinions.  Many just form an opinion on whatever they want to imagine and many just “don’t like the way you think”.  Others might use their experience (no matter how much or how little of it they have) to form an opinion. Perhaps they have had good experience doing something a certain way and it hasn’t failed on them.  Good for them.  Not good for me. If it isn’t common sense and meets scientifically sound principles, I’m not buying it.  (Global warming is a very good example of something that DOES NOT MEET scientific principles.  Just because a scientist SAYS SO doesn’t make it SO. )  Perhaps I should have listened when we were first learning to sale when our instruction said “I neither offer, nor accept advice from other sailors”.  I didn’t get it then, but I “get it” now.

This isn’t to say I can’t learn from others and won’t give up trying.  But learning from Internet Sailors who frequent forums isn’t necessarily the way to go when learning!  On the other hand, some forums have some smart people.  They have experience.  They have traveled.  They DO things.  Those people are almost never online either.Why not?  They are… well, traveling and doing things.  They aren’t posting in forums.  They have blogs, they spend time writing up the misery they have in repairing the head, or getting stuck in the engine room upside down while cleaning fuel filters out or getting the air out of the fuel line.  They talk about the problems and how they solved them, rather than opining how “You shouldn’t do this or that, you should spend as much money on the problem as you can and move on…” (which is really all I get from the vast majority of the forums out there).

What this whole thing comes down to is my own list of “skills” I have compiled.  My skills are more important to me than to anyone else.  And no one’s skills are more IMPORTANT THAN MINE.  I need my skills to get by.  I can use others’ if they are part of the crew.  If not, they are useless to me.  Everything on my list I can ‘check off’ as something I have learned about ON MY OWN now.  I either knew or had the skills already when I started down this road or I have taken the time to purchase a text book and study it.  Granted I’m a bit slow on diesel mechanics (but I have enough information to train myself and all that I need is the “hand-on” or “on-the-job” training to make use of the knowledge).

I can’t say I am an “accomplished” sailor.  I’m not. I’m a novice. I’ll remain a novice until I am not a novice.  I don’t know when that will be, I don’t know what will cause it to happen.  But when it does, I will know it.  But the day is fast approaching when I’ll be leaving Colorado for good… and every single, last skill I’ve collected has gotten me there and will get me through the next part of the journey.

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Just for the heck of it… here’s a partial list, in no particular order and with no connected explanation. This is not an all-inclusive list, nor in any particular order, but it’s what I’ve learned I need to know thus far.  I’m sure I don’t know it all.  Your lists may vary.  It’s not something you SHOULD do.  This is what I have learned and am still learning:

Cruising “Skills”

Keeping log books

  • Shopping lists
  • Preventive Maintenance lists
  • To DO Maintenance lists
  • Daily chores
  • Inspections of engine, plumbing, riggings (standing and running) etc
  • Tracking what has been done and what hasn’t

Electrical Skills

  • Lighting
  • Navigation lights
  • Anchor lights
  • Cabin lighting
  • Wiring
  • Power calculations
  • Power panel wiring
  • Solar Power
  • Wind generator
  • Alternator (engine)
  • Inverters
  • Radio systems (VHF, HF)
  • Antennas and the connections to the radios
  • Antenna couplers (tuning units)
  • Stereo systems and speakers
  • Computers
  • Windlass
  • Miscellaneous electrical systems

Mechanical skills

  • Diesel engine
  • fuel
  • fuel lines
  • air cleaners
  • water pumps
  • oil/oil changes
  • two-stroke engines
  • gas engine mechanics

Plumbing

  • Fresh water pumps
  • Salt water pumps
  • Head

Fishing

  • fishing
  • fish
  • lobster
  • crab
  • other food

Overall general seamanship skills

  • Anchoring skills
  • Weather patterns
  • weather forecasting
  • heavy weather sailing skills
  • Sailing
  • Safety
  • Marlingspike
  • Rigging skills
  • Rigging repair
  • Voyage planning
  • Celestial Navigation
  • Sextant use
  • GPS Navigation
  • Dead reckoning
  • Chart reading skills
  • Plotting courses
  • Plotting fixes
  • Knot log
  • Bearings
  • Navigation
  • Lead line/depth finding

Emergency repairs

  • stopping leaks
  • repairing hull
  • rigging
  • sails
  • anchor and rode
  • preparing for storms in anchorage and during a passage

Foreign Travel Skills

  • Clearing in and out
  • Dealing with foreign offices
  • Keeping records
  • Weapons aboard (or not)

Shipboard Management

  • Galley
  • Plumbing
  • Fuel
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Water supply/collection
  • Propane

Communications

  • email (Pactor)
  • weather faxes (Fax programs)
  • Ham Radio
  • Marine SSB
  • VHF
  • How to call for help
  • When NOT to call for help

Business and Bureaucracy (and things to have/keep on vessel)

  • USCG documentation
  • business/boat cards
  • ham radio QSL cards
  • ship’s papers
  • passports
  • legal documents
  • birth certificates
  • marriage certificate
  • boat insurance certificate
  • International shot records
  • radio licenses
  • extra passport photos
  • ship’s stamp
  • medical prescriptions (if required)
  • Banking/cash/credit cards
  • telephones
  • bills
  • deposits
  • mail
  • taxes

Safety

  • Rules of the road
  • Avoiding collisions
  • Reading buoys/signs
  • Flare guns/flares
  • Deck safety (harnesses, PFDs, Jack lines etc)
  • Personal self defense (and not getting into positions of requiring said self defense)

Leaving boat/miscellaneous

  • rowing/oars
  • sculling
  • dinghy sailing
  • kedging/setting second anchors

Internet Connectivity for our Sailboat

Rick Donaldson, N0NJY

My wife and I are about to retire to a boat.  We have spent four years of our “Five Year Plan” preparing ourselves and our house to sell, and in general learning all we can learn.  There’s no way we’re “ready” but we’re “ready to go”.

You might ask, “If you don’t have a boat yet, why are you worried about things?” – I’ll try to explain in this entry in the blog.

One of our biggest concerns is staying in touch.  My wife is an avid Facebook user and uses her iPad everywhere.  That means we need a wireless internet connection.  Our other issue is getting email while doing crossings.  I have decided to solve that using Winlink.  Now I know that some ham radio operators HATE Winlink.  I also know why they hate it.  Most of them are crotchety old men who still want all Amateurs to have to learn Morse Code at 20 words per minute to be able to get their Extra Class License.  I’m a crotchety old man too, with my Amateur Extra Class License and I think they are full of donkey poop.

With that said I’m also a computer, electronics geek and have been all my life.  I’ve been working with electronics since I was ten years old and I try to stay up on the latest technology.  So – when it comes to Winlink, I’ll use whatever I have to get my signal out to get messages back to my family and those other crotchety old men can just keep on using Morse code and RTTY as long as they like.  (Fortunately, the FCC said it was ok for us to continue using Winlink methods and the plaintiffs lost that one… but that’s another story for another time).

Back to Wifi.  I’m not a Pirate (yet) and I never propose or condone piracy of books, music or even wifi signals.  However, there are certainly a lot of free wifi-hot spots around the country (USA) and in other countries I’ve visited, and I’ve been to (at least count) 49 countries around the world.  My visits to BVI, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and other islands have shown there are still free wifi hot spots.  And if there aren’t then there are Pay-as-You-Go hotspots.

In either case connecting to a wifi connection should be as easy as getting the signal and being able to get back to the wifi antenna.  But what if you’re at anchor a mile away from the hot spot, marina or coffee shop offering the services and you can’t anchor closer, or can’t afford the slip on this month’s budget?  What do you do?

I spent several weeks researching what most other cruisers do and came to the conclusion that most everyone “throws money” at a solution.  I’m glad there are folks who did well in this world and have money to spend that those of us who spent most of our lives in the military scrimping and saving do not have to spend.  Since JoAnne and I will be on a pretty strict budget for our world cruising (because if not, we wouldn’t get very far from the first dock…) I have to over-think everything.  And I think I can’t throw a lot of money at a solution.

I also realized that while sailors are in my opinion some of the most independent minded, well-educated (even if only by experience), and resourceful to the extreme only a tiny portion of sailors are actually trained or understand electronics to a great degree.  Many say “If you can’t fix it, don’t have it on the boat”… thus they don’t have radios unless they are cheap, keep computers running by asking others to fix them, and so forth.  I have nothing against these folks.  And more power to anyone who can spend that money on things they need.

Me, I build things, I hack, I manufacture and I do a lot of my own electronic work if I have the schematics and tools.  Thus for the wifi situation-to-come, I’ve decided to put together a system of parts, antennas and so forth to make a wifi station for the boat.

Now for those that want to spend the money, there are several companies that offer pretty much what I am building for a nominal fee.  So far, the same system has cost me right at $125.00 USD.  You can contact those companies and get the same thing all in one package for between $300-$500.  At least one place will help you out for $1000.  That 1000 bucks is another month of cruising for me though.

I’ll do a quick write up for the devices, and system, building the antenna, wiring everything up and making it work.  For me, I have to do this BEFORE I have even bought the boat… I still have my job, I have the extra money NOW, rather than wait until I’m already aboard ship and headed for the Islands and the time and a work bench or three to work on.

Once I’m on the boat I’ll be busy enough just outfitting and making sure the boat is safe to worry about electronics, and rewiring computer systems.  So, that’s why I am doing things now, while I can, rather than wait until I HAVE to do something!

To that end, we purchased a new laptop.  Not expensive but fully capable of running our navigation software (OpenCPN) and communications software (Winmor, Airmail, RMS Express and some other things for amateur radio).  I’ve tested and verified everything works on Windows 7 so I’m happy with the machine.

Last night I finished the antenna elements for the wifi antenna (and I will detail that later).  The Postman brought my new toys – the Ubiquity M2HP module (more details later) and the POE (power-over-Ethernet) adapter.  That’s most of the equipment.  I already have a wireless router in use at the house which I will “borrow” from my network.  Once I have assembled and tested all this, I’ll do a write up in a step-by-step manner that others should be able to follow.

So – I believe that if you’re going to do something, do it right and practice to get better.  I’ve been “practicing” to be a “skipper” all my life – I just didn’t realize it until a few years ago.  I’ve spent my life learning everything I can, from electronics and radios, to how to lay cement, do wood work, metal work.  Hell, I even learned how to use old printing presses (those things they used for Newspapers before there were computers… don’t ask me to explain what a “newspaper” is. I’m too old and crotchety for those kinds of questions!  /grin