Saturday, October 24, 2020

An unintended hiatus

Well hello again! We never intended to be silent this whole summer, but somehow, that's what happened. Kyrie hung out at the dock in San Carlos from July 1 to October 11, and while it was a good thing because we would have gone stark raving mad from the heat, I think the entire crew is glad to be done. We got A LOT done in San Carlos, I'm grateful to say. 

Here's the list: re-galvanized all our anchor chain; had new cockpit cushions made, recovered all our dinette cushions, and got new foam for Levi's bed; had an emergency tiller made; designed and installed stainless steel braceplates for the bulkhead between the dinette and our room; fiberglass repair in the head where bulkhead tabbing cracked on the way down the coast; a full Sunbrella cover for the deck and coach roof; Sunbrella covers for the foam on the dinghy, since it was beginning to disintegrate in the sun; and Kyrie's outside was cleaned top to bottom, including stainless and rigging. Whew, I think that covers everything we had done. 

In addition, we took on a new crew member in July. In a somewhat, but not really, spur-of-the-moment decision, we adopted a former street dog in Guaymas. He had been tossed in someone's front yard and she took him to the vet because he was in rough shape--an eye infection, fleas, ticks, worms, etc. A week later, the little guy was ready for a home, just in time for us to meet and fall in love with him! Joe and I had been out running errands and brought the puppy home, much to our kids' shock and delight. We've talked about a dog ever since our old dog Bandit died, before we even bought Kyrie. Rio has been a welcome addition to the Kyrie crew, although he had a bit of a rough time on our crossing back to Baja!

Much to our delight, our friends from SV Arena arrived in San Carlos in mid-August and life got much more interesting. They have four kids--the oldest two girls are Levi's age, the next girl is Rachael's age, and their son is Megan's age, so suddenly, everyone had someone to "play" with, even the adults! It was nice, even with being cautious about distancing from others, to have another couple to visit with, to later on go to Happy Hours with, and just have fun!


Road trips! We actually took a couple of road trips during our time in San Carlos, although they weren't exactly for fun. The first one was in September, up to Hermosillo. I had been worrying the entire time we were in San Carlos because the kids' passports expired the end of September and I didn't know how we were going to get them new ones. Passport offices were just starting to reopen in the States and there was a huge backlog. The Consulate offices' websites wouldn't let you make an appointment for new passports until they expired and it became an emergency. What to do?! I finally called the embassy in Mexico City and explained our predicament--that our kids' passports would be expiring, that we weren't planning on returning to the States any time soon and were frankly afraid of getting stuck there when our boat and home was in Mexico. I was told to email the consulate in Hermosillo, telling them exactly what I had just said. I did so, and half an hour later, we had an appointment scheduled for the following week! Car rented--check. Hotel reserved--check. Rio staying with Arena--check. Off we went! It was such an easy, uneventful experience! Not only did the kids get new passports, but Joe and I were also able to renew ours at the same time. Best of all? We picked up all five new passports in Guaymas two weeks later! What a relief!

11 happy people with new
Mexican tourist visas!

Next road trip was just a couple weeks ago. The Arena crew decided to make the drive to KM 21, which is where new FMMs (tourist visas) can be obtained. Ours still had another month to go, but we were in a fairly convenient place to get new ones, whereas in a month, we didn't know where we would be. Cars rented, hotel rooms secured, pet sitter for Rio engaged--we were ready to go! The Kyrie crew ended up with a minivan and nearly all the kids (did I mention there were seven kids altogether on this trip?) enjoyed the mobile movie theater at one time or another on the trip. There were a few crazy moments, like when the car rental company gave Arena a car, instead of the van they reserved for the six of them--good thing we had the van--or when we overshot the office for our visas by about 40 kilometers, and had to turn around and retrace our steps! 945 kilometers driven in two days, all for eleven pieces of paper that made us all legal tourists in Mexico for another 180 days!
Even the statues in
Hermosillo wore their masks!

 With all our tasks completed (for now, at least) it was time to get moving again. We had cabin fever something fierce and couldn't wait to start cruising again. October 11, we pulled out of the marina and used a friend's mooring ball out in the bay. A weather window would allow us to sail across the Sea of Cortez to Isla San Marcos, as long as we left around 4:00 the next morning, and we didn't want to be leaving the marina in the dark. 









Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Look Back on our Gear After a Year of Cruising

We cut the dock lines a little over a year ago now, and are summering in San Carlos, Mexico; anxiously awaiting cooler weather.  We've had some amazing experiences, some not so amazing, but overall are thoroughly happy with the choices we have made, and wouldn't trade it for anything.  This post, however, is not about those experiences, but about what "stuff" has worked well for us.  Hopefully it helps another cruiser who is out there preparing.


Gear reviews:

Galley:

Aerobie Aeropress for coffee:  Can't be beat!  Our minor suggestions there would be to buy a Stainless re-usable filter as it really improves the flavor, and watch the youtube videos on brewing upside down using the aeropress.  Fantastic, smooth, strong coffee!

Fagor Duo 6-quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker:  We can't say enough about this appliance.  We use it just about every day.  If you're going cruising, buy a pressure cooker and learn how to use it.  It saves time, propane, and keeps the majority of the cooking heat and moisture out of the boat.

The Boat Galley Cookbook:  If you're cruising on a boat and don't have a copy - get one.  It is our go-to book on a boat where we really are careful about taking any books due to weight!

Technautics CoolBlue Refrigerator:  This has been an awesome piece of kit, and Richard Boren who sells them has been an amazing help when we ran into issues.  It's been running for years non-stop, and our only issue is that we need to replace the insulation in our fridge box to make it cooler - not an issue with the fridge at all, just a reality of having the cooler box installed down below waterline in the hull and sitting in 80+ degree water.

Barbecue:  For our family of 5, we had a heck of time finding a marine barbecue that had enough space to cook for everyone without having to resort to cooking in batches.  We finally found a non-marine unit, a Weber Q1200, and mounted it to the rail using a Magma T10-680 bracket.  After over two years, it still performs flawlessly, has needed nothing other than normal cleaning, and still looks nearly new.  It also heats much more evenly and doesn't blow out when anchored in the wind nearly as easily as the previous marine versions we've used.  All at less than half the price of the marine units.  Highly recommended if you're in the market for a boat grill.

Toilet:

What is it about cruisers?  Get a batch of them together and the conversation invariably goes two places:  anchors and toilets.  3 years ago we pulled out the toilet our boat came with and replaced it with a composting head.  We chose a C-Head, and are very happy with it.  The unique thing about a C-head vs. the main competitors (Air Head and Nature's head) other than being less expensive, is that it can take full time use by a family of 5, you just need to dump it a little more often.  For us, with full-time use, the solids need changing about every 4-5 days, and the liquids once a day.  Changing either is less work than cleaning a cat litter box, and frankly not even as gross - unless you let it go too long.  Best yet, there are no stinky hoses, we don't ever have to find a pump out - it goes over the side when we're far enough out to sea, or goes in our normal garbage when we're not.  And for us, the kids can't clog it - ever.  We couldn't recommend it higher.

Fresh Water:

When we purchased Kyrie, she came with a never-used Little Wonder LWM-200 12v watermaker.  We began using it in Alaska, and make nearly all of our own water unless tied to a dock for a long period of time.  It has worked well, and been fairly reliable for us, but there have been a few issues - largely due to installation inadequacy or misunderstanding of the operation of the system.  We installed the new, but 4ish year old membrane when we left Juneau, and always had moderately low production rates through Alaska, and down the west coast (normally around 4-5 gph, when the unit is rated for 6 gph.  After trying installing a brand-new membrane from Racor, our production went up slightly, but not much.  I spent days troubleshooting the unit, and it came down to an issue with low voltage at the watermaker pump.  The person who installed it used a small switch which was getting hot, and causing the voltage to drop from 12.6 volts down to 11.5 volts at the pump.  This decreased the water flow, and we could see production numbers as low as 2-3 gph at times.  Once I removed the offending switch from the system, and realized I could not run the watermaker in the morning before the batteries reached around 80% and the system voltage came up, we now normally produce about 5-6 gph with this unit.

The previous owner installed a below-sink cartridge filter for drinking water, and we frankly love it.  It doesn't take a fancy $300+ filter here, just a standard 10" filter housing on the cold water line to your faucet, coupled with an activated carbon filter.  We can now chlorinate dock water if we want, and the AC filter takes the chlorine back out for perfect taste, or when we're running on watermaker water (most of the time now) the non-chlorinated ultra pure water can get a bit of a taste from the tank.  This simple filter removes any off-tastes for the cost of about a $5 filter every 3 months.  Very much worth it.


Dinghy:

Shortly before departing, we purchased a brand new Porta-Bote 12' dinghy and a new Yamaha F6 outboard to power it.  We still believe it's the best choice for our type of cruising, but have learned a bit more.  First, on the outboard:

The Yamaha F6 4-stroke outboard has performed flawlessly, absolutely zero issues to date.  It planes the skiff at 12-14 knots with two adults on board, and just sips the fuel.  Our only wish is we had waited to get outside the USA to where they sell 2-stroke versions of the motor due to weight.  It isn't too bad, but needing to daily disconnect it from the dinghy and put it on the rail for safety and theft protection, that 65 pound outboard weight does get a bit old.  Shortly before leaving, we also painted the cowl and head of the outboard bright yellow and removed all factory stickers.  Everyone thinks it's an old beater motor now, so the illusion is complete.  If we had to do it again, we'd still try to get the 2-stroke version, but here we are.

The Porta-Bote has performed very well.  Our only modifications from stock was painting the seats white (which has been wonderful - they aren't hot in the Mexican sun!) and adding eye bolts at the front and rear seats to allow the boat to be hoisted on davits, along with adding a drain plug.  This has worked very well, but we did have to upgrade the eye bolts as the original ones we purchased were bending (and one broke!).  We replaced them with 316 SS 3/8 by 3 1/4" eye bolts, and they've performed perfectly since.  We originally added a Ronstan plastic drain plug to the starboard rear side of the dinghy, and it has worked flawlessly.  Our only problem is that the drain plugs sink if they fall in the water!  Be sure to carry spare drain plugs.

We have broken one seat on the porta-bote.  The rear seat cracked along the bottom where the strut attaching the tie piece to the transom attaches.  We think this is frankly a design issue with the seats, but Porta-Bote wasn't very helpful, just saying to glue it back together.  We did re-glue it, but not trusting it had a machine shop make up a aluminum angle to reinforce the rear seat.  So far, so good on that repair, 4 months later and zero issues.

The foam on the porta-bote is definitely not up to snuff for the tropical sun.  It is starting to deteriorate, and we hope to have sun cover cloths glued on this summer while we're in San Carlos.

Other than the minor issues above, frankly we've been happy with our choice.  The Porta-Bote serves us well.

Anchoring: 

Our Wasi 25 kilo stainless anchor is incredible.  We've never drug it anywhere - even in 60 knot winds and reversing currents.  It sets nearly instantly, and we sleep well.  Enough said there.

Our backup anchor - a Fortress FX-23 has performed great.  It assembles in about 5 minutes and is very light - very important on a catamaran.  So far, we've only used it as a stern anchor, and in sand or mud it holds extremely well - to the point it's been difficult to retrieve a couple times.  Our only suggestion would be to add a trip line to your anchoring system if you want to be able to raise it by hand - it digs deep, and can be hard to trip by hand.

Our windlass - a Lofrans Tigress has performed flawlessly.  A windlass is very important to us as it otherwise would be very difficult to live off anchor for a long period of time, as we prefer to do.  The only problem we've had was a little corrosion in the foot switch connected to the windlass.  A quick clean up, and it's been working great the last year straight.

Our anchor bridle is homemade from 5/16" three-strand nylon.  We originally had issues with the snatch load on the bridle in very windy conditions when anchored in shallow water (less than 10').  The boat could swing around in gusts, and you could get knocked off of your feet when the anchor chain came tight.  Our solution was to rebuild the anchor bridle - not longer as usually done as we really like to anchor in shallow water from 8-15' deep, but to add in a pair of dock-line snubbers - one per side.  This has worked beautifully, as the bridle now has about 6-10" of stretch with increasing resistance on each side, and has dramatically eased the snatch loads in windy anchoring conditions, without weakening the bridle.  I'm not sure I'd want to rely on it through a hurricane, but for normal anchoring up to around 60 knots of wind, it has been awesome.  We used a pair of Sea-Dog EPDM rubber snubbers like these https://www.fisheriessupply.com/sea-dog-line-snubber-561516.  We have since seen a handful of other cruisers using them as well.

Navigation Electronics:

When we re-rigged a year ago we replaced our anchor light with a LunaSea anchor/tricolor combination unit.  It has been an amazing upgrade for the last year.  It turns off and on automatically with a daylight sensor, draws next to nothing, is extremely bright, and has caused zero AIS or VHF interference (and it is inches away from our antenna).

Our primary navigation is done on an iPad in a waterproof case, with a RAM mount at the helm.  We originally ran and recommended iSailor, which was good in the USA and Canada.  However when we arrived in Mexico, the charts were absolutely terrible.  We immediately switched to Navionics, and couldn't be happier, although we do miss a few of the features in iSailor.  The charts are worlds better in Navionics though, and that's what is really important.

For a handheld VHF in the dinghy, we've carried a pair of Baofeng UV-82HP, along with a Standard Horizon HX-290.  The Standard Horizon works perfectly still, and is very durable.  We haven't been too thrilled with the battery life though.  The Baofeng units have been excellent, but aren't waterproof.  As such, one has taken a accidental dip in salt water in the dinghy and doesn't work at all.  The other one is starting to suffer from some corrosion after 3 years on board, and we think its life expectancy is decreasing by the day.  For long-life, we wouldn't recommend the Baofeng units, although they're cheap and a ton of fun to use.  Keep them dry, and you should expect at least a few years of use.

Before setting off, we added a AIS Transciever to Kyrie, a Vesper XB-8000 and a corresponding Vesper antenna splitter unit.  It has been outstanding, works perfectly sending the data to our iPads and other devices.  The anchor watch is used every time we set the hook and it is an amazing feature.  Our only problem has been when using Vesper's own software.  It frequently freezes, and can take 5-10 minutes to get it into the anchor watch software at times.  We're not sure where the problem lies, as Vesper hasn't been much help.  Other than this annoyance, we'd recommend the unit thoroughly.  It has greatly improved our safety at sea during passages.

Other Electronics:

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a gadget guy, and love to play around with computers and electronics in my spare time.  Here are a couple gadgets we thoroughly enjoy, and a couple that are showing their age on Kyrie.

For entertainment, we have a pair of Raspberry Pi's hooked into our TV.  One is running Kodi (a port of Xbox media center) and serves up our TV and Movies flawlessly.  With a little configuration, it can also do just about everything a Roku can do.  Our shows are stored on a pair of USB hard drives, one 5 tb, one 4 tb.  The other pi is running RetroPie with a couple wireless USB controllers, is a wonderful retro gaming system.  It helps on the hot or rainy days to pass the time in a small boat.  One thing we have found though, is to carry a spare raspberry pi board.  They're cheap enough to carry a spare, and we have had one board burn out on the boat.  They're also a real pain to replace in Mexico.

We have been thrilled with the performance of our Insignia NS-24ED310NA15 tv.  It used hardly any power, and if you cut off the power brick, runs directly on 12VDC.  After 4 years of life on the boat, it was beginning to show its age, and we just replaced it - with another Insignia, but a newer model, specifically the Insignia NS-24d310mx19.  This one's 12VDC conversion wasn't quite as simple, but I opened the back of the tv exposing the circuit board, and there is a small 12V auxiliary port right on top.  A little bit of soldering onto this connector, and we again have a TV running on 12 volt natively.  For more specifics, it draws 1.8 amps with the back-light maxed out.  I also run it with a cheap 12V voltage stabilizer from Amazon for extra protection from over-voltage during charging or when the engine is running.

Our Chromebook has been performing flawlessly - an ACER Chromebook 14.  It's an older model, but has been on the boat for over 4 years now and works perfectly.  Our other laptop computers, both Dell units aren't fairing quite so well.  One's DVD drive is wearing out from the salt air, so we think its death is coming soon.  We've heard from other cruisers that laptops generally last 2-3 years on boats due to the environment, and ours have been aboard over 4 now, so they're on borrowed time.  For the future, I would continue my general recommendation to just avoid purchasing expensive PC's for boat use.  They're all going to wear out pretty quickly.

All our data is backed up twice - we carry two sets of hard drives, with a direct copy of each onto the other drive.  We've been using Seagate Backup Plus drives on board, and while they've treated us well and don't require an extra power supply, they are spinning disks on a moving boat so who knows how long they will live for.  To be prepared for their failure, each drive is copied regularly onto another drive for 100% backup, and each year or so we get an additional external drive and copy all our data again, and send it home with friends or family for safekeeping.

Camera Gear:

While we aren't avid shooters by any stretch of the imagination, we've been using the following gear with success:

Fujifilm Finepix XP130:  This has been an outstanding little unit for us.  Tough, water-resistant, and takes good pictures.  For basic point-and shoot use, highly recommended.

DJI Spark Drone:  While we frankly don't fly it terribly often as we're so afraid of losing it, it has been a great way to get otherwise impossible photos.  It has been reliable and a joy to fly when we do take it out.  The size and cost of this small unit are also very boat-friendly.

Action Camera:  A couple years ago we bought a cheap SooCoo C30 camera, a cheap Chinese copy of a GoPro.  While nowhere near as good as a real GoPro, it has been wonderful to not really care about the unit, and just thrash it around.  We've used it snorkeling and scuba diving a number of times now, and it just works.  For the money, we'd recommend one.  


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Thoughts from under the air conditioner

     This will be a little less of the "what we've been up to," and more of a "what's going on in Kristen's head" post. We arrived in San Carlos on June 26, I think. Our reservation in the marina wasn't until July 1, so we had to drop anchor in the bahia for a few days. Those few days reinforced in my mind that we made the right decision. It was hot, with very little air movement, and the water temperature has risen enough that jumping in simply isn't enough for refreshment. 
      I can't remember now who told me this, but I thought it excellent advice. She said that she has figured out that for her own sanity (and that of whoever else is on the boat with her!), she needs a few days to a week in a marina every month. Normally, we try to avoid marinas, even if for no other reason than to extend our cruising funds! However, I know how Joe and I react to the heat. We lived in the central valley of California for the first six years of our marriage and tempers rose as the mercury climbed. Knowing we would be in Mexico this summer, without any easy way to get back to the states and potentially cooler environs, a decision had to be made--do we stay out in places to anchor, where we can self-isolate much more easily, explore a little bit, and potentially turn Kyrie into a powder keg with five roasting people, who will then say we can't take it anymore and end our cruising time? Or do we bite the bullet, fork over the money, don the masks, and plug in that air conditioner, considering it all an acceptable price to hopefully continue our cruising journey? 
        The wanderlust has not been satiated. The desire to travel is still strong. Therefore, for our sanity, we have made the decision to tie up here for the summer. It's not ideal, I have to admit. San Carlos is very quiet. The marina has lots of empty slips and most of the boats that are here are unoccupied. It does make this time of socially distancing easier--less people to avoid!--but it makes for long days. The whole crew usually spends time at the table simply because that's where the best air flow from the air conditioner is. Can you guess where I'm sitting right now to type this?
          The hope, of course, is that somehow, Covid-19 will slow down and life can assume some semblance of normalcy. Will that mean we can continue to explore? Will other countries be open to us arriving, visiting for a while, and then moving on? Right now, we hope to work our way south, starting in the fall, and being in Panama by May, in order to transit the canal and move on to the Caribbean. Will that happen? This time, more than ever, is a time to not make big plans far off. I've never before experienced so much living my life day-to-day, but that's what has happened. Restrictions alter, places open and close with remarkable rapidity and just when I think I've adjusted to whatever is going on, the rules change and I have to learn them anew.
          I miss people. I am not an introvert. While I like having time to myself when I need to get thoughts down on paper, I tend to recharge by spending time with friends. My batteries are rather low lately. I love my family, but it's hard to constantly be in this bubble. However, this is where I am right now, and I'm learning to revise my expectations. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A month out of touch

      After nearly a month in one spot, it was time to move on again. Besides, it's been getting hotter and us poor Alaskans are melting! We've seen temperatures in the 90s during the day, only dropping down to the low 80s at night if the high dryer-type wind doesn't blow up off the land late at night and roast us in our beds. We made the decision that on the next southerly, it was time to head across the sea to our reserved slip in San Carlos for the summer. We still have the air conditioner we bought in San Blas, so once we plug into power, we can be comfortably cool again. To be honest, I think we're all looking forward to being at a slip again for a couple of months. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.