Monday, August 31, 2009

Dragon Boat World Championships Results



The 2009 World Dragon Boat Racing Championships wrapped up in Prague yesterday. The full race results are posted.

Congratulations to the San Diego Dragon Boat Team for bringing home a mix of medals.

Wave Glider Tours Pacific Coast


The Wave Glider is a small, semi-autonomous boat that can carry scientific instruments for long distances in the open ocean. The craft is mainly powered by the action of the waves that it is in. It also carries solar panels to energize the on-board sensors and a sattelite link. The satellite link is used for both control/command and to upload data from instruments.


The vehical can be used for a variety of purposes. So far it has been tasked with listening to whales and collecting ocean data. A Wave Glider was released in Monterey Bay last week with the purpose collecting meteorological and surface measurements to further the understanding of CO2 absorption by the ocean from the atmosphere. The Glider has made it north to Newport, Oregon.

The Wave Glider is built by Liquid Robotics, a small Palo Alto startup.

Here is a New York Times article. The following is an audio story from KQED.org.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hurricane Jimena Heads for Baja


So far, this hurricane season has been quiet for Mexico. Most all of the storms have turned northwest towards Hawaii. Hurricane Jimena is a different story. Current predictions show the category 4 storm heading north, straight up the peninsula.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Walk Around the Yard

Our slip is near the Berkeley Marine Center. This is a boatyard that attracts many wooden boats and assorted other do-it-yourself projects. The yard was recently written up in Practical Sailor. There is usually something interesting to see.

This is a San Francisco Bird Boat. The Birds are a local class that have been on the bay for about 87 years. The boat was designed by Fred Brewer, Sam Crocker, and John Alden.


This is a tough little Vertue, designed by Laurent Giles. Though only 25 feet, several have been sailed around the world. There is a famous sign that resides in the harbormaster's office in Durban, South Africa that states. "In winds over Force 7, no yacht may depart without my authority. Unless she's a Vertue."

This is Dutch, a longtime fixture in Oakland. Steve Hutchinson, a local master shipwright, is performing a loving restoration.


Dutch's doghouse has been removed and is serving as a model for new construction on deck.

This is Rapid Transit. She is newly built Antrim 49 design. Her launch will take place in the next month or two. Latitude 38 ran a feature on RT.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Double Enders - Efficiency Through the Ages


PassageMaker.com is running a nice historical summary of double enders by Chris Caswell this month.

Archimedes


This is a modern gaff-rigged double ended cutter. Archimedes was designed by The Benford Design Group in Maryland and built by Johnson Yachts in New Zealand. The steel hull is made of computer cut plates. She is designed to survive a 360 degree roll in the southern ocean. The roller furling headsails contrast with the gaff main. Wooden spars are mixed with steel construction. The flush decks make her look roomy below and safe on deck. She is 45 feet (presumably on deck), but there are not a lot of other technical details given.





Mike Perham Finishes Circumnavigation


Congratulations to Mike Perham 17, who has just crossed the finish line in England to become the world's youngest solo circumnavigator. Mike endured terrible weather in the southern ocean and multiple equipment failures to achieve his goal.

Here is a story at Yachting World.

Las Encantadas

The picture is of the redningskoite boat Isabella which sailed from Norway to the Galapagos Islands in 1925. This is recorded in the text Drømmen om Galapagos (Dreaming of the Galapagos), which can be found on the website: Human and Cartographic History of the Galápagos Islands by the author John Woram. Mr. Woram has written books on Patagonia and the Galapagos. If you like maps, history or have ever dreamed of visiting the Galapagos, you should visit the site.

The following is a map of Darwin's route through the islands. (Frank J. Sulloway)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mmmm, Engineering

Once you have spent a few (hundred) hours struggling trying to fix boat stuff in cramped bilges and the like, you begin to really appreciate forethought and clever engineering.

Steve Dashew has just posted an update on the building of production FPB 64 power yachts in New Zealand. There are many clever and thoughtful details in the photos and the post. I was particularly impressed with the last three photos and captions:

Finally, a test. Can you tell us what this plug in the rudder is for?

When the bolt is cinched up the surface of the plug is flush.

Want to pull your prop shaft without first dropping the rudder? That’s where the rudder plug comes into use.

Amazing. He has just saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance fees across the life of the fleet of FPB 64s, not to mention a lot of sweat and cursing.

AIS/VHF Antenna Splitter Warning

We were early adopters of Class-B AIS transponders. It seemed far better to be seen than to just see other ships. The technology has been invaluable, especially since we do not have radar.

In San Diego and back home in Berkeley, I have been watching the boat on web reporting pages (siitech.com, MarineTraffic.com). It has only shown up sporadically on the displays. I have never quite been sure if this was due to the base station placement, some sort of Class B filtering or a problem with our transmitter.

I recently contacted True Heading AB, the Swedish company that markets our AIS-CTRX transceiver in Europe. They told me that the problem is probably due to an antenna splitter that sometimes does not forward transmissions from the AIS Class B unit.

I bought the SmartRadio splitter from a Miltech Marine. The unit looked identical to one being sold in Europe by True Heading and others. The fact of the matter is that, most all of the equipment is built somewhere in Asia and marketed under different brand names around the world.

Many vendors are now offering a new product especially for Class B that will transmit all of the time. The older model works fine for Class C receivers and has given us great VHF transmission and reception. We can commonly see ships 17 to 20 miles away with out mast head antenna.

If you have a Class B system, I would suggest checking the components in your installation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Near Collision in Berkeley Marina




















I was unable too catch the full drama of this encounter on film. The wind was blowing about 12 knots from the left side of the picture. The sailboat was short tacking aggressively upwind. Prior to the first photo, the sailboat was on a port tack moving directly away from the camera. The fishing boat did not acknowledge the sailboat that was headed across it's bow. The sailboat decided to tack early, which would have put it to the left of the fishing boat in the picture. After the sailboat turned, the fishing boat suddenly turned to starboard (it's right, but left in the picture), cutting off the sailboat for a second time. The sailboat fell off to starboard just in time. The soundtrack (not included) was even more colorful.

Let's be careful out there.

Urban Releaf

Urban Releaf had a group of volunteers working hard in Oakland last Saturday. The team was planting 20 foot saplings along MacArthur Boulevard between Market and San Pablo.

The organization operates in Richmond and Oakland, California. Trees in the blighted areas of a city make a huge difference. Here is a paper describing how planting 1800 trees in Oakland can reduce 9 million gallons of storm water runoff per year from reaching the bay.









The city of Emeryville made a similar effort around the corner on San Pablo Avenue about 15 years ago with wonderful results (below).

Blue Lobster

Bill Marconi, from New Hampshire, pulled up a blue lobster last week. This mutation is rare - 1 in 5 million.

The lobster is headed to an aquarium rather than a boiling pot.

The New York Daily News has a story here.

Smiling Turtle

A happy Hawksbill turtle from Koh Tao,Thailand.

Happiest Turtle Ever from Henrik Edelbring on Vimeo.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Youngest Circumnavigator Mania

15 year old Mike Perham is about to finish his solo circumnavigation to possibly take the title of youngest from Zac Sunderland. In Australia, Jessica Watson, also 15 is about to begin a solo trip.

Now comes word from Holland that 13 year old Laura Dekker wants to start a trip on September 1st. The Dutch government is attempting to stop her by assuming legal custody from her parents.


It is tough and violent out there, even for the world's best adult sailors.

We also must remember that single handed, long distance sailing is technically illegal. International maritime law states that all captains shall maintain a proper watch at all times. This is impossible when single handing. There is a long tradition of authorities looking the other way, since the next at risk is usually the single hander's. In his book, Single-handed Sailing, author and sailor Frank Mulville implores skippers to not take unnecessary risks that could cause accidents for fear that one or more governments might start enforcing the laws.

It is difficult to say where all of this will end. Eventually, there will be blood.

Here is a story in Nederlands from de Telegraaf.

Sailing Movie: Morning Light

We finally got a copy of Morning Light. This is the story of a group of the best college dinghy sailors sponsored by Roy Disney to race the 2007 Transpac from Long Beach to Honolulu.

It has a lot of fun stories of training and racing, the best of which is a truly bizarre encounter with their class rival, Samba Pa Ti.

Morning Light
has a chance crossing of paths with the other main competitor in the TP52 class. This happens over a 1000 miles from land and away from other boats. The two teams duel for a day or so before splitting up again.

After having been out on the ocean, I did not have a lot of sympathy for the team when they started missing pizza after 10 days.

All in all, this is a fun, inspiring movie in the Disney tradition.

Fiona on Ice

Captain Eric Forsyth is attempting a transit of the Northwest Passage. The photo is of his Westsail 42, Fiona, temporarily on ice on the west coast of Greenland. According to SPOT, Fiona is still moving north along the Greenland coast.

It seems late in the season to turn west, so it is unclear what his intentions are at this point.

The story is also on crew, Russ Robert's blog Fiona Attempts Northwest Passage.

Global warming or not, the Northwest Passage is a fickle body of water. Ice shifts and closes constantly. It took Clound Nine several attempts over many years to make it. The Canadian Coast Guard usually can free a boat caught in the ice. As more boats attempt the passage, one wonders about the cost of rescuing adventurers.

This came to my attention via gCaptain.com and Watts Up with That?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dragon Boat World Championships

The 9th Annual Dragon Boat Racing World Championships will be held in Prague this week. Our good friend John and a great team from San Diego will be representing the US in the Senior/Premier Division. This team cleaned up the medals a few weeks back at the Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival. The team also won the world championship a couple years back in Sydney, Australia. Good luck to all the guys from San Diego.

Big River Man

Big River Man is an aquatic adventure movie that will open in Europe this week. It documents the 66 day swim of Martin Strel up the entire length of the Amazon River. That is 3,274 miles. Martin swam 10 hours and drank two bottles of wine a day. He also had to dodge snakes, piranhas, crocodiles, bandits and unfriendly natives. Only two bottles of wine a day?

mirror.co.uk has a story about Martin.




Big River Man - Trailer from KNR Productions on Vimeo.

Historic Tugboat Sinks

A historic US Navy tugboat sank last week in San Francisco Bay. The Wenonah sank from unknown causes off of a pier on the north side of Treasure Island on August 17. This created a small oil spill that reached the Berkeley Marina on the flood tide.

The ship is owned by
the Historic Tugboat Education and Restoration Society.

The tug is sitting in about 30 feet of water. The salvage plan has been delayed a couple times. It is hoped that the tug will be raised next week.

SFGate has an article here. The San Jose Mercury News has a story here.

Live AIS on the Bay

The image is a partial screen shot of AIS ship traffic on a San Francisco Bay Sunday morning. This snapshot was taken about an hour after low tide. The flood had begun which may explain the traffic jam outside the gate.

This map came from SiiTtech.com who sells AIS units. Another view can be found at MarineTraffic.com.

These sites take data from AIS base stations around the world to give you a picture of live shipping traffic in places as far apart as Oslo or Rio.

As a sailor in San Francisco, this is probably most useful when trying to pick a spot to transit the the gate among the freighters moving 10 to 20 knots.

You would probably not be able to access this on the water via Wi-Fi. It might be useful via cellular broadband or of course using your own VHF based AIS unit.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caribbean Lionfish Invasion

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium tank in Florida releasing 5 or 6 lionfish into the Atlantic. NPR had a frightening story a little while back about the fish invading much of the warmer waters of the Atlantic and eastern Caribbean. The fish is a voracious predator without many threats in this part of the globe. Estimates are that the lionfish may have eaten 75% of the other reef inhabitants in some areas.

Today, I was speaking to a man from Belize who still returns there yearly to dive. He said that many of the reef fish are now gone and that there were clouds of lionfish schooling above the reefs. He also told of 75F water temperatures that are killing and bleaching the coral white.

The lionfish is a native of the southwestern Pacific. It is unclear what checks their population at home, but it is sorely needed in the east before the Caribbean is a watery desert.

NOAA has more information here and here.

Maitreya's New Digs

We have found a new home for the boat in Berkeley on H dock. She is nestled snugly between two houseboats in an downwind slip. Our temporary slip had been a crosswind affair which is tough when 15 knots are an everyday occurrence. We should now be able to get in and out in all weather.

Cruising Destination: Nick's Cove, Tomales Bay



Tomales Bay is an idyllic destination north of San Francisco. It is separated from the Pacific by the long arm of Point Reyes and is part of the National Seashore.

Nick's Cove is one of many interesting spots along the shallow bay. It is cozy, if not Disneyesque, mini resort comprised of a roadhouse restaurant and a few cabins. Nicks has been there since the 1930s. Recently, it was completely restored by San Francisco restaurateur Pat Kuleto. Kuleto owns famous restaurants such as Boulevard and Jardiniere. The roadhouse is pricey, but good.

Down the road or south on the bay, you will find oyster farms including Tomales Bay Oyster Company and Hog Island Oysters.

We recently visited by car, but can't wait to take the boat. The entrance to the bay can be tricky. As with most Northern California bays, there is a bar that you don't want to cross under marginal conditions. Visitors from the south tend to overnight at Drakes Bay and try an time the tide in the morning hours.


Is the Rock Really the Mark?


No, it was just a short cut. This showed up on BitterEnd and H2uhO and apparently came from Sweden via Brent Dille. I'm not sure which I like better, the 360 degree penalty turn or trying to get two boats through at once. This is part of the Tjörn Runt race in Sweden.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Garmin Bidding for Raymarine

On the business side of boating Garmin is proposing to buy Raymarine. That would put Garmin in some new businesses such as autopilots, but most of the products overlap. It is difficult to say what this will mean for boating consumers. Panbo suggests that it may be a move to get OEM deals with European builders. Reuters broke the news.

We have products from both companies and have been pleased with quality and customer support, unlike our experiences with Simrad.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mike Perham Sails On

Mike Perham, who is attempting to become the youngest solo circumnavigator, has been making great progress in the Atlantic. The OC Tracker map shows us that Mike is about one third the way across the North Atlantic. His northerly route to skirt possible hurricanes has him crossing at about the same latitude as Maine or Nova Scotia. Mike's web site is predicting that he has about 13 days to go to reach England. This would place him home on about August 30 or 31.

Fair winds to Mike.

Sail, Rock and Surf



180 South is a new film about adventures in Patagonia. It is based on the 1968 trip of Yvonne Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. Guys that later went on to found Patagonia, ESPRIT and other companies. Looks like it will be a great adventure flick. Thanks to Boat Bits for bringing this to my attention.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not Really a Cruiser Anymore

At least I got some more stable net access today. Thanks to our good friends here on H dock for sharing.

What do you do when your friends laugh at your post saying that you want to become a responsible contributing member of society again?

I found the list at function:verb.

Varmits

Squirrels and rats and racoons, Oh My! There seem to be a growing population of bad actors of the furry kind here in the Berkeley Marina.

The raccoons are quite bold. They will accost anybody carrying food and have no qualms about boarding a boat. These guys have grown up with no fear of humans.

The first night the boat was here, we were not on it and there was some food left on the counter. We had removed our port light screens to allow more air. Some bleedin varmits came in and helped themselves to cookies and chips. They did not bother to clean up when they left. Rock salt fired from a wrist rocket might leave a lasting impression.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Carbon Offsets for Your Boat



I have put up a few posts on global warming and ocean acidification. I thought it would be interesting to figure out what damage our cruising has done and if possible put a figure on rectifying it.

The EPA claims that burning one gallon of diesel produces 22.2 pounds of carbon dioxide. On our boat, our Yanmar 56 horsepower engine burns between .75 and 1 gallon an hour depending our RPM. We have run the engine approximately 300 hours this year in the relatively calm waters of Southern California and Mexico. This means we have produced about 3.3 tons of CO2. This is slightly less than driving a car that gets 30 mpg 12000 miles a year.

Carbon offsets can be purchased many places these days. EcoBusinessLinks.com provides a matrix of offset vendors and costs. The price of an offset for a metric ton varies dramatically from about $2.75 to $33. I do not really understand the disparity. Are some vendors more efficient? Is there a big debate on the economic damages and costs? Your money is put to work in different ways by the vendors. Reforestation, methane, efficiency, renewables and various other projects are employed.

At TerraPass, offsets for our boat would cost about $21.90. TerraPass focuses on projects such as farm waste capture and conversion, methane capture from landfills and wind farms.

If you care about such things, it is fairly easy to balance your boat emissions. It, of course, would have been better to sail all the time, but Lin and Larry we are not.

Reduce your carbon footprint and fight global warming with carbon offsets from TerraPass

Acid in the Oceans



NPR.org and other news outlets have been running stories on increasing acidification of the oceans. Burned fuels cause carbon dioxide to enter the oceans as well as the atmosphere. This then turns into carbonic acid which can damage and kill sea life. Some of the attention to this problem has been caused by a new film called Acid Test (the trailer is above).

It is unclear what all of the effects of this major change in ocean chemistry will be. This may be as big a problem as polluted storm water run off.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And Julia says.....

never to apologize for your food!
That's Julia Child indeed and that's exactly what I did (or at least attempted to do) last Sunday morning when I cooked up a fast pancake breakfast using some instant Whole Wheat and Honey only to be mixed with water (so handy, at least I thought, on a boat), a couple of bananas left in the galley and some nuts from the still huge pile of different varieties stored somewhere on Maitreya (a girl never wants to run out of baking goods!). OK, that did not come out so good but at least we still had Peet's coffee to wash it down with.
So, for any of you gals/guys out there, ready to go provisioning for any mid-to-long term cruising, just stick with plain old flour for general baking, Betty Crocker's Triple Berry muffin-mix or Bisquick for pancakes or some nice ready mixes like the Sticky-Fingers brand if you don't feel like getting the measuring spoons out of your drawers when the boat is healing too much. Julia will probably not approve of the quick fixes but she'll be more than happy to learn that the real cook in our little family has just ordered her Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook to get totally ready for some nice home cooked dinners with a good glass of wine (and trust me, the Admiral is really happy with that!).

BTW, we did see the Julie/Julia movie and we can highly recommend it (good acting, cute story and surely a chick-flick!)

The Culture Shock of Being "Home"

We are back in the Bay Area and are having a hard time adjusting to schedules, traffic, driving, jobs, looking for jobs and so on. Cruising can be pretty hard work. NOT cruising can be tough too. Corine has been working a couple weeks. I'm just starting my new campaign to make myself useful to society. On top of all else, it is pretty cold here in Berkeley.

If you live here, we hope to see you soon. We are also missing our friends from San Diego and Mexico.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Atkin Clione Gaff Ketch

Thunder Child is a 35 foot, 10.5 ton gaff ketch built in 1971 of yellow cedar. This might be a nice boat for someone interested in traditional double enders. She is for sale in Comax, BC.

Check out her web site. More information can be found on the Atkin Site.

Fiesta Begins


Fiesta started on Wednesday and is slowly gearing up to full pitch this weekend. You can hear the locals that aren't selling things cringe. The town has filled with touristas, the majority of which are European. So far the festivities are dominated by Spanish dancing. The confetti egg vendors are crowding the sidewalks of State Street.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Food Science - Non Boating

I have recently seen two documentaries on modern food. Food Inc. is in theaters and The Future of Food is free on Hulu.com. Both films focus on the increasing industrialization of the food supply. Major consolidation has occurred in meat production, seed production, and food purchasing driven by fast food companies and the retail market sector.

Food Inc. looks at multiple sectors, while The Future of Food deals mainly with genetically modified crop and seed production primarily driven by Monsanto. The GMO problems look more important at this time.

Having worked in Agriculture in the mid-Eighties when the genetic revolution was getting started, I thought that GMO might be a good idea. 20 to 25 years later, I am reconsidering.

Monsanto has acquired many of the pioneering startups and has released GMO seeds for several major crops including soybeans, canola and corn. They are pushing for wheat, but have met some resistance. The following problems have arisen:
  1. Some crop failures and reduced yields.
  2. Some allergic reactions from consumers. This may have occurred with both Flavr Savr tomatoes and Taco Bell taco shells. Both products were pulled from the market.
  3. No labeling requirements for GMO foods. This makes it very difficult to trace a health problem back to the technology.
  4. Seed contamination of fields not planted to the GMO strains. This has allowed Monsanto to sue non-customer farmers and seed handlers for patent infringement. They claim that the farmers owe them royalties. This effectively gives Monsanto a complete monopoly on a crop such as canola. This is like a computer owner owing a virus writer money because a virus had invaded his machine.
  5. No FDA/USDA/EPA oversight. GMO crops were ruled substantially equivalent to their non-GMO predecessors, so no regulation was required. At the patent office, these same crops were ruled novel, unique and valuable.
  6. Government conflict of interests. Former Monsanto employees and board members are in strategic positions in all branches of government including the FDA. Clarence Thomas used to work as Monsanto's legal counsel. He later wrote the majority opinion on the case allowing patents on life and nature. Congress and the public have never voted on the rights of corporations to patent life.
  7. Genetic contamination of wild and heirloom strains of Mexican corn. If we lose the genetic diversity of these crops there will be no way to fend off the rise of certain diseases and insects.
  8. Loss of markets in Europe and Japan for banned American crops because they may contain GMO components.
  9. An attempt by corporations to patent all genetic material in seed banks containing wild and natural species to obtain preemptive ownership.
  10. Upcoming introduction of terminator genes. These genes would render the second generation of a GMO crop sterile so that it would not produce seed and/or the food component of the plant. This is seen as a remedy for seed and sub-species contamination that is causing patent infringement law suits. The main problem here is potential escape of the gene to unintended plants through cross pollination. If this were to occur as it did with heirloom Mexican corn, we may lose those strains forever.
I still hold some hope for GMO crops in the future. It is clear that a more balanced approach to science and regulation driven by more than a handful of conglomerates is needed.

Similar arguments can be made for tempering the general industrialization of the food chain.

Organic, traditional and local farming are making comebacks. Despite the size of the industry players, the consumer still has a say. It is heartening to hear that Walmart is expanding it's offering of organic foods and it's relationships with suppliers such as Stoneyfield Farms.

These two movies are informative and entertaining way to learn about these issues.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Devil's Teeth

I have posted about Santa Barbara being the Uni Capital of the US. Uni is Japanese for sea urchin served as sushi. Here is an interesting video about a uni diver who works the Farallones Islands off of San Francisco. The Farallones are known for the great white sharks that come there to hunt seals. In the 19th century, the Farallones were known as the Devil's Teeth to sailors attempting to enter the Gate.



I found this at the Horse's Mouth, who claimed it stolen from Mr. Boat. Such is the blogosphere. Infinite bits, not much to say. BTW, you should check out Mr. Boat, he is Dutch (perhaps Belgian), he spends a whole lot of time on the internet.

Sakonnet Day Sailor

This is a nice little day sailor that is for sale in Santa Barbara. It is an Edey and Duff Sakonnet 23. They are the same outfit that built our Fatty Knees dinghy.

It is reminiscent of Herreshoff, which makes some sense as it was designed by Joel White. White also took inspiration from the Wizard, when he designed the Haven after the 12 1/2.

She is pretty, but at $39,000, a bit pricey.

Paddle the Rio Grande and Live!


NPR's Morning Edition is running a series this week on being near the Mexican border and NOT being killed.

Eric Ellman and Buster safely paddle the Rio Grande river for fun.

Mexico has really gotten a bad break. It is a great, safe, bargain for visitors.

Cruising Gadget: Enhanced Wi-Fi

We use Wi-Fi on board almost constantly when in port. There are many useful applications that cruisers use to stay in touch with home and entertain themselves.
  1. Skype provides voice-over-IP (VOIP). In English, this means free or very inexpensive phone calls to either other computers or phones. We have called the Netherlands and the US from Mexico for free many times. When we were in Ensenada, there was T-Mobile cell service, but international roaming can be expensive. The call quality is very good and can even include video if you have a camera. If you want to impress your elder relatives, give them a video call from Mexico on their birthday!
  2. Email is a no brainer.
  3. Blog updates help us keep in touch with friends at home while allowing us to document and remember our adventures.
  4. Streaming radio is a big use for us. We can stream traditional radio stations from around the world. This is useful in first world ports where we may not have good radio reception over our car stereo. We get most of our news from NPR. We are able to follow the San Francisco station, KQED, from anywhere we go. You can connect to a stream with a browser or a media player. We use iTunes.
  5. Pandora is a different form of streaming radio for music. You name an artist or song that you like and it uses a unique algorithm to play other music that is similar to it. This provides us a great variety of music. We also learn a lot about artists that we previously did not know. Unfortunately, Pandora may not be available in every country due to music copyright issues.
  6. PBS video is a fantastic source of entertainment. Shows such as Nova, Frontline and American Experience are available for free on high quality streams. Some programs use media players while others use Flash video.
  7. Hulu has a great variety of TV shows, feature films, and documentaries. The streams are great and use the superior Flash video format.
  8. YouTube, Vimeo and other sites serve some great short films.
  9. Paid content sources include the iTunes store, Netflix and others. We have used these with mixed results. We love the Netflix DVD service. The Netflix download service is still in early days. There is limited content and the picture quality seems to be degraded over slower connections. I was unable to play a rented movie from iTunes on my netbook. This was due to some complex technical problems. Apple Care immediately refunded my money and were generally helpful.
  10. Weather updates are very important. We can access the NOAA/NWS, Lee Chesneau, Bouyweather and PassageWeather rapidly. Connecting to Sailmail and SailDocs is fast over the net and does not use valuable airtime on the SSB.
  11. If you want to worry about the stock market, there are many ways to do it.
To take advantage of all this, you need a good connection. You can sometimes get a connection with a Wi-Fi equipped laptop as long as you are close to the access point and there are not obstructions. On our boat, we cannot get a cell or Wi-Fi connection below decks at certain angles.

This leads us to the technical portion of this post. We have installed a Wi-Fi access point on board. This is basically a very small computer that is dedicated to networking communications. The access point is very similar to what you will find on marina roofs that you will be connecting to. You need an access point that will allow it to operate as a bridge. The bridge acts as a transparent connection between your computer and the marina access point.

The access point should be mounted as high as is practical on your boat. Ours is mounted on a homemade antenna mast on our stern. The mast is about 8 feet off our deck and is pictured above. In the picture, there four antenna shown. From left to right, there is an SSB/DSC receiving whip, a thick amplified Wi-Fi unit, a small black rubber Wi-Fi unit, and a GPS mushroom that is hooked to our AIS transceiver. The access point is the gray square block below the antenna. The small black Wi-Fi antenna comes standard with the access point and it is suitable for many harbors where you are within a few hundred feet of the feed. The large gray tube is a multi-direction 8db gain antenna that is useful for longer distances, possibly up to a couple miles. Unidirectional models may work better in a fixed position, but not turning on the hook. You should note that an amplified antenna can reach longer distances, but it does so in a narrow triangular pattern that may miss many closer signals. This is similar to only being able to see what a flashlight is directly pointed toward.


The access point is powered by a technology called Power-over-Ethernet (POE) where the electricity is passed over a network cable along with the data. Typically, POE units use AC power sources, that will require an inverter. The AC unit immediately converts back to 48V DC, so this is a wasteful setup. Ultimately, it does not use much power, but it would be nice if a marinized unit that uses 12 volts were on the market. The POE unit is about the size of a cigarette pack. In the picture, the left wire is a short cable that connects to the laptop. The top wire is the power cord. A 20 foot Ethernet cable runs from the right to the access point.

Some sailors put their access point at the top of the mast, which may be superior. We did not want to run the wires up to our already crowded mast top. It would also mean that I could not easily switch the antenna from short to long range versions.

Once this equipment is mounted and plugged in, you are almost ready to go. There is some configuration of the access point required to set up network addresses and security. Reconfiguration is also need each time you want to connect to a different shore-side access point. You must enter the name, frequency and possibly a security key into the the memory of your access point. On my unit, you do this by logging into a web page provided by the computer in the AP. The software works OK, but is not as simple as the connection utility in Windows. I typically use Firefox as my web browser and I have found that the configuration web page only works correctly in Internet Explorer. These are very common problems with this type of equipment.

I am using an EnGenius/Senao wireless bridge similar to the EOC-3610S-EXT. The models may change quite often. You typically want a higher power (600mW) unit with an external antenna. I have an NPE-4818 POE adapter. This has worked very well for over year and has been out on the ocean in some fairly rough weather. A unit like this in 2009 may cost $125 to $150 plus cables and various fasteners. I have had good luck from internet stores such as NewEgg and TigerDirect.com.

In each harbor, there can be a single or dozens of Wi-Fi access points to connect to. Some private systems will require prearrangement for connection. The operator will provide you with WEP or WPA security key/password that must be entered into your configuration page. You can look for free connections that are open and don't require a security key. Some of these will require a password or payment later when you start browsing. You may need to try a few connections to get one that is free and has good reception. Sometimes paid systems are the only ones that work well.

There is a very good Wiki site that explains a lot of the technical details that I have skipped at Wi-Fi on a Boat.

An alternative to all of this is a cellular broadband modem that plugs into a USB port on your computer. These are offered by cell phone providers such as AT&T, Verison, or Cricket. They may cost $50 a month or more. Many do not work internationally. Their appeal is that they are fairly fast and simple.

Prins Willem in Vlammen

The Dutch VOC (East India Company) ship Prins Willem replica burned in Den Helder last week. The original ship was built in 1649, but sank in Madagascar. I found this story at gCaptain.com.

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