“There's a ship coming fast from the East! Oh wait, that's the moon rising.”

Frequently Asked Question and Their Answers

We've collected questions on our Pacific Seacraft Mariah 31, Our Airhead Composting Toilet, Life Aboard Our Sailboat, and other assorted details that people are curious about and tried to provide more detailed and evolving explanations to our madness.

About the Mariah 31

What is the history of the Mariah 31? 

Many people have asked this question in the past, so I'll lay it out for you as I've learned it from others. Feel free to correct me if I've got something wrong.

The Mariah 31 was built in California by Pacific Seacraft in the 1970's. Pacific Seacraft's first boat was the Pacific Seacraft 25 and was introduced in 1975. The co-owners of Pacific Seacraft were Henry Mohrschadlt and Mike Howarth. Henry was the designer for the Pacific Seacraft 25, Mariah 31 and the Orion 27. They started their company by building the Pacific Seacraft 25 in Howarth's garage and selling it at the Newport Beach, CA boat show. This 25 foot boat went on to be included in John Vigor's book, "Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere."

In 1977 the Mariah 31 was introduced. At the time it was reported to be the most expensive sailboat of this size ever built. Many Mariah boats went on to sail the world and their success built quite a reputation for the Pacific Seacraft company. It was rumored that the Mariah 31 was just too expensive to keep in production and Bruce Bingham's Flika (a famous 20 foot boat) and Bill Crealock's Crealock 37 were introduced.

The earlier designs, the 25, the Mariah 31 and the Orion 27, are not as recognized as the new models, but they were the keystones of Pacific Seacraft's reputation. In 1988 Mike and Henry sold their business after becoming world famous boat builders and a new group took over Pacific Seacraft. So formidable was their reputation, that part of the business deal forbade them from building sailboats again. So in 1992 they formed Cabo Yachts, which makes power boats. Cabo Yachts has been rated as one of the top 100 manufacturers in the country, they won the "Exporter of the Year" award in 1998, and have a 65,000 square foot facility. All starting from a boat they built in a guy's garage.

Our Mariah 31 was built to amazing standards. The hull is over 1" thick and the deck is about 1.5" thick. It's sometimes hard to find bolts long enough to through bolt the deck gear. The bronze port lights are like art work, and the teak interior would cost a fortune to be duplicated today.

It is very roomy inside, carries a lot of our junk and in 15 knots of wind we can hit 6 knots pretty easily. See other Mariah's on the Yahoo Group Page.

How does the Mariah 31 sail? 

 First off, I should mention that we have made some modifications to the running rigging. We've added a 6 foot genoa track to the cap rail to bring the lines outside the shrouds. We've removed the staysail boom and replaced it with 2 3' sections of track. We've added roller furling to the main genoa, and put a quick release on the inner forestay for short tacking in light conditions. We replaced the boom with Selden's single line reefing boom and rigid vang. And we added the Strong Track System. We also have new sails, and we take them off the deck if we are in one place for a long time.

In addition, we have used a hard anti-fouling paint with a Teflon additive which seems to keep the bottom clean. That said, we do NOT have an expensive folding prop. Our prop is a 16" triple bladed monster, but it doesn't seem to effect our overall boat speed.

Ok, what's the real scoop?

Light wind -- the hull shape of the Mariah has somewhat low initial stability and high ultimate stability. This means it will heal easily but it has a strong resistance to tipping over. So in light winds (<5 knots), we can easily heal the boat. The heaviness of the boat allows us to build forward momentum through waves and puffs and I'm always surprised at how well we can sail in hardly a puff of breeze. After years of racing light displacement sailing machines, I was worried about our tank of a boat with outboard shrouds and short waterline. All of those worries have disappeared. I've been impressed with how fast we can actually move this boat. Of coarse, all sailors suffer from some self-delusion about their boats, so that's my disclaimer.

Medium wind -- (15 to 30 knots) the sailing performance under these conditions are adequate. We point about 35 degrees comfortably and can usually sail a little above our theoretical hull speed and make about 5.2 to 5.4 knots (reaching we often fly at 6.0-6.3). There can be excessive weather helm in some conditions, so we sometimes reef the main once or travel it out to balance the boat. This also tends to improve the speed slightly. Also, reefing the roller furling genoa once, moves the center of effort on the sail forward and alleviates some the weather helm as well.

Heavy wind -- (30 to 45 knots) With just the staysail up and/or a double reefed main, we can make 4.8 to 5.2 knots to windward at 38 to 45 degrees. The helm becomes neutral which eases the work of the helmsperson in the rough conditions. Tacking through the wind requires one to fall off some, then swing around hard to avoid "missing the tack". We are still perfecting our boat handling skills in these conditions. If the wind builds, we switch to the storm staysail and the trysail.

Storm wind -- (over 45) This is where we heave-to and hang on. UPDATE 12/22/2007: We sailed through a notoriously bad patch of the planet in 40-50+ knots of wind with sea conditions unlike anything I'd seen before. We reached through it with just the stay sail. We had to yell in each others ears to be heard and it was a wet ride, but we managed fine see my drawing of it or read about getting spanked twice.

Why don't you have more photos of your boat?

 Everyone wants to see more photos of our boat. Unfortunately most of the photos we have of the boat are before or during various states of construction. Things are torn apart, stuff is everywhere, etc. So the photos we have are before we've upgraded, painted or fixed something. We're slow at getting around to taking some "final" photographs but we will this summer. Really we will. UPDATE 08/28/2010: Ok, we probably won't.

About the Composting Marine Head (Toilet)

Does it work? 

For those of you who don't know, most boats have a tank to hold sewage. Once it's full you have to haul ass to a pump-out station where they transfer the contents into the city's water treatment system. In the US, there is a law that allows one to dump sewage 3nm offshore, so some people just head out a little ways and dump it. In places like Alaska, three miles offshore could be the middle of an open bay which opens to the ocean, thanks to Reagan's modification of some of the sewage laws for cruise ships. In Canada, you can dump it anywhere, although they are starting to request you don't in some areas.

Anyway, we've found that finding a pump out station in Washington was a cakewalk, but in Canada and Alaska, forget it. They just don't care. Things are changing in Canada, but not fast enough. Since our holding tank took up a ton of space, we took a chance on a product called the "Air Head". They have a unique design which is different from all the other composting toilets; it separates the liquids from the solids. This allows it to compost the solids with less energy because the liquids do not need to be evaporated.

We've used it since 2003 and we can say, "Yes it works." It doesn't stink. (If it does stink, then it isn't composting correctly.) It is small and it gave us a ton of storage space back. However it does have quirks. You have to be mindful of the moisture content in cold environments. If it gets too wet, you have to add more composing medium (coconut pith, or peat moss) and sometimes hit it with a small dose of enzymes. Likewise, if it gets too dry, you have to add water.

The solid tank will last the two of us for 2 to 4 weeks depending on the temperature of the environment. Cold environments are harder to compost. Now that we are in a more tropical climate, we are getting about 6 weeks of use out of the solid tank. We can extend its use by using the shore-side facilities when they are available.

The liquid tank will last about 1.5 days to 2 days. We carry two of them. Urine by itself is almost sterile, so dumping it where allowed has less of an impact than the bacteria loaded solids. Also, the small containers fit easily into a shopping bag and can be discretely dumped in a public toilet.

UPDATE 12/9/04:

We recently received the new large liquid tanks, prototypes versions, from the designer. They last for 2 to 3 days and are easier to work with because they are one piece, instead of the tank with the surrounding shell. They are also made from a harder plastic, so they should last us a long time.

What Composting Material Do You Use? 

 We deviate from the norm. I'm talking about the standard of using peat moss, of course. We use coconut pith bricks. These things can often be found in small plant stores or they can be bought on-line. They are remarkably dense bricks that expand by a factor of 5 with water. Their compact form means we can store 6 months worth of composting material in a small bag.

The coconut pith absorbs water better than peat moss, it's cheaper and we can use small bits of it for planting wheat grass seeds so the cat will have some grass to munch on. (Gotta keep the Queen happy.)

What other recommendations do you have about the composting head? 

 Installation Tips:

  • Make sure you can easily see the opening for the liquid level in the liquid tank. We installed a small light next to it, so in the middle of the night, it is easy to light up, and see inside or change the tank.
  • Install it amid ship, so that when you are healed over, the liquids will always drain into the liquid tank. Or if you can’t, angle it up so that when you are tacked over, the liquids can still drain into the liquid container. If neither of those options work, then just like many regular heads, you have to use them on the "right" tack.
  • Put anti-seize or grease on the bolts for the liquid tank and the bowl. They seem to be just standard (non-stainless) parts and anti-seize like never seize, will keep them from getting corroded over time.
  • Keep the air vent as short as possible for the best ventilation and keep the screen clean (once a month).
  • Get 2 of the liquid bottles, so you don’t find out at the wrong time, that the liquid tank is suddenly full.
  • The airhead comes with a through deck fitting that mounts on the inside and it contains a small 12V fan. It is important that this fitting is sealed up against the hole you cut in the deck. We made a rubber gasket ring and attached it to this fitting so it can be taken on and off without having to deal with sealants.
  • The fan for our vent has lasted 3+ years so far, running 24 hours a day. But if you want to have a replacement fan, the 12V fans for cooling CPU's will fit fine.
  • The deck fitting for the vent is a Nicro vent that is supposed to not leak water. Ours leaked and we had to disassemble it and plug up 2 of the 3 vent holes. It still passes air without any restrictions, but now we can dump buckets of water on it without any leaking in. You might have to experiment with your fitting to make sure it is water tight. You don't want your composting head filling with rain or sea water. You might consider using Nicro's solar powered fan in addition to the fan that is already in place. More air flow the better.
  •  

    Tips for Using:

  • Be prepared for land-lubbers to be somewhat frightened by the concept. Guests' responses range from curiosity to repulsion. Make sure they understand how to check the liquid tank level so they don't overflow it.
  • Try using a small spray bottle with water for “flushing.” This uses almost no water, but keeps the bowl clean.
  • We don't use the coffee filters for the solids, I don't know why anyone would. It stays very clean without them, but you might find you have to retrain some of your muscles to allow timing for liquids and solids so you can wait to open the solid door...you get the gist.
  • In cold temperatures you have to use the enzymes. They are literally called "Drain Care" and we've found that they also work well for unclogging galley sinks. One small container will last you years.
  • Sometimes we had to divert heat from our heater into the head compartment to help remove some of the moisture in the air and to help the composting process. This was only important after 2 or 3 days of constant rain and temperatures below 65F where the inside humidity would hover around 80% to 99% all day.
  • There can be smells from the toilet directly after use, after being stirred or if you are starting a new compost "session" and the bacteria isn't well founded. It's not as bad as the smell from vent hoses from a traditional holding tank, but you should be aware there are normal times when it isn't odor free.

About The Cats Onboard the Boat

Do they like it?

Our first cat, Jezebel, was rescued from under a porch in Seattle when she was 3 weeks old. She's almost feral, but she trusts Sherrell most of the time and Eric about half of the time. Any change in her environment (moving furniture, etc.) would really upset her, causing fits of yowls. She hides from just about everyone and trusts nothing. Being 13 years old, we thought moving her on board would be constant torment for her. So we tried to find her a home.

Well, a new home didn't work. She withdrew into a scared fuzzy ball, so we moved her onto the boat with us. We slowly gained her confidence back and the small space of the boat has made her change dramatically. She now struts around the inside of the boat like the "Queen" we call her. New experiences still shock her, and she complains violently, but afterward she reaches a new level of comfort with the boat.

It took her over 1 and 1/2 years, but she now goes out into the cockpit by herself. She often demands we open the hatch for her so she can roam around. Recently, she achieved a first; she circumnavigated the deck all by herself. Imagine our surprise when we saw her casually looking in the port lights as she walked around the deck. In her life on land, she would have NEVER been so brave. Now we're going to have to keep a closer eye on the Queenie.

Our second cat, Jordan, was rescued from a hole in the ground; compared to that she loves the boat. She likes to stalk birds and absolutely loves to sit up on deck, even in the wet dew. In fact, Jordan is our personal boat "greeter" and always pops up the companionway when she hears us coming in the dinghy. We love having both cats on board, we just wish they'd get along better with each other.

What about Cat Litter? 

Ah, the practical questions. We prefer "Natural Harmony" cat litter which consists of "plant fibers in pellet form." This cat litter looks like small wood pellets but it works well at absorbing liquids and it doesn't track particles everywhere. We've tried them all, clay, sand, clumping, shweat (which is a wheat-based litter) and none of them work as well on a boat as the "plant fibers in pellet form." In Mexico, we've had to switch to a course version of the clumping clay. The courser stuff seems to work better than the finer clay which gets everywhere, but we miss the plant fibers. Outside of Mexico (Central America & South America) the only clumping type litters we can find are Fresh Step. And we often have to hunt for them and stock up.

How do you travel in-land with cats? 

We have two folding cat carriers (thanks to ebay) that we carry the cats in. We usually have to rent a car because the nicer buses won't allow animals. As a hint when renting a car, do it over the internet and then pay with a credit card that provides rental car insurance -- it will save you a bundle. Anyway, we usually have to call about 5-10 different places looking for a pet friendly place to stay. This usually works out well because they tend to be more laid back and have animals too which makes the stay more fun. We bring along the litter box, a scratching pad, food and food dishes and a toy or two.

Once we have the cats in the car we usually let them out of the cage to roam around and it calms them down. They usually curl up somewhere and fall asleep. We've done several multi-hour road trips (over 5 hours) and have stayed in lots of different places with them. Sometimes for short trips we find a kitty-sitter to watch them on the boat, but they seem to be happier coming along (especially once they are settled in the room).

About Life Onboard the Boat

Did you really quit your job? 

We planned for this lifestyle for so many years that when the day finally came, we couldn't quit fast enough. People say we're "lucky" or "crazy" but anyone who works as hard as we did to save money for one purpose, and does all of their own work (from the fixer-upper house to the boat), can do it. If you followed one goal for as many years as us, you could be here too.

What things to do you miss? 

A constant paycheck, but I'm sure that will fade. We miss an endless supply of fresh water (long hot showers/baths) and electricity, eating out in some of Seattle's great restaurants, and when it's stormy and rough, we miss being on land or at least in a protected anchorage. However, none of these things are worth giving up for the experiences we are enjoying now.

Aren't you scared? 

One of the great teachers of religion and mythology, Joseph Campbell, said, "The meaning of life is to feel alive." Modern life offers people few opportunities to feel alive. Nothing about going to the mall, watching movies, working 40-50 hours a week with a 2 week vacation did it for us. I guess there's a lot of people who find that truth. I think the pursuit of feeling alive pushes some people to jump off bridges secured by a rubber band and do other crazy life-risking stuff.

Sailing is far safer than doing most of things we had to do everyday -- driving, flying, crossing the street. About 95% of the time sailing is in normal conditions, the other 5% is the challenge. While that 5% includes some conditions yet to be experienced, we have studied what others have done and are prepared for the worst. Our boat is strong and so is our determination. If all we feared was the unknown, we would have never left the house.

What about internet access? 

Many of my friends from the high-tech world get stuck on this question. "I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't look stuff up on the internet." Well, at first I had disconnected-itis as well. I used to keep a list of things to look up when I got back to an internet connection. We're long over that instant need for information and news. After traveling for weeks at a time without any news, TV, or radio, we found that the world doesn't change as much as we though it did. We can now go months without hearing any news update, then turn to a paper and see the same crap, different day.

Now that we have a Pactor modem (used off Ebay) for our High Frequency radio, we can send and receive email. We can also retrieve weather information on request which has been very helpful in doing our own weather forecasts. See my page on getting weather with SSB email. It's pretty cool to be in the middle of paradise and post a message to our Slog with our current position which gets displayed on the same page via Google Earth Maps. The interactive satellite map really helps people feel like they are there with you.

What do you do all day? 

Mostly physical labor. Seriously. People think we just sit around drinking beer and playing around, but that isn't real life on a boat. On a boat you can't just open a cupboard and take out a can of soup, you have to move at least 5 to 6 things to get to the place where the can is stored. Multiply that by 10 if you are working on repairing something. Imagine our boat as a 30 foot hallway with an engine, kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom, and a spare room (for navigation). In this space you have to store food and water for 2-3 months, spare parts for everything, 5 different sails, survival gear (life-raft, survival suits, spare radios, spare GPS, emergency watermaker, etc.), about a mile of ropes and chain, tools for fixing anything, books, charts, navigation equipment, clothes ranging from suits to sub-artic foul weather gear, dishes, pots and pans, blankets, spare anchors and lots of odds and ends. The sum total of this gear weighs, according to the travel lift scale, 3,000+ pounds. Every nook and cranny contains something. Everything fits somewhere and you end up carrying a mental map of the boat with you to save from having to move 40 things to search for certain size wrench.

You have to cook 3 meals a day, everyday. You have to maintain the engine, rigging, ropes, hardware, polish, clean, cook, keep a constant watch on the weather, carefully monitor your fresh water supply, do laundry by hand in a bucket, wash dishes by hand, clean the boat bottom, maintain the outboard, the list goes on. There is time set aside, for sweating, swimming to cool off, hiking, meeting people, snorkeling and reading, but there is never a lack of work.

When you arrive in port, you have to carry all your provisions, sometimes miles. This often includes water and fuel, which are extremely heavy. You have to scour the town for elusive items of hardware, food or generic everyday things like sponges. And you have to carry everything. An ENTIRE day, and 10 miles of walking, can be taken up just trying to find a certain bolt or a piece of plywood. If you're lucky, you find it.

There's still stress too. If we are in a nice protected port, we can at least let our guard down about the weather and breath a sigh of relief, but most of the time the specter of bad weather hangs over us. It is impossible to explain to people who are inexperienced in living outside how the weather effects you. Within a timeframe of six hours a good day can turn very very bad, so we have to constantly be aware of the environment to avoid trouble.

So to the casual observer it appears like laid-back lazy lifestyle, but delve a little deeper and you'll see much more work goes into getting a sailboat safely from Point A to Point B.

Are you really vegan? Holy crap! 

Yes we don't eat meat or animal products at all. That means no fish, eggs, milk (cheese, etc.), chicken, pork, beef, dogs, cats, rats or any other type of animal. In general we haven't traveled or lived in a country that didn't have produce as a priority product in stores with meat products taking a second seat. So if you happen to be vegetarian or vegan and are worried about traveling the world, don't worry. Everyone eats veggies and fruit. Sometimes communicating the meatless concept in restaurants (especially dairy products for vegans) can be challenging, but pick up the key words in the local language for "vegetarian", "vegetables", "fruit" and "no meat", "no fish", "no eggs", "no cheese". Some countries like China or the Philippines we found communicating that some animals like pork were still meat, or that small chunks of meat is still meat. But it's all part of the experience. After all if you're going to be weird, better expect weird things to happen.

Cooking on the boat of course is very easy because you can get produce anywhere. Gourmet items are often hard to find and we sometimes have guests carry items down for us. But check out the list of things we've found just in Mexico: Soy Chorizo, Soy Hot Dogs, Soy Burgers, Wide variety of Soy Milk products, TVP (textured vegetable protein) and of course Tofu. Soy Chorizo is actually easy to find in many stores, but the hot dogs and burgers take some hunting.

How do you survive the heat? 

Don't have refrigeration like us? Get a cooler and treat yourself to iced drinks once in a while. UPDATE 2009: We now have a 12V Engel Fridge/freezer. We installed it inside our old icebox. See our March 17, 2009 post "All that work" for photos. It takes about 15 amp-hrs a day since we turn it off at night.

  • Use the melted ice water to wash dishes with. The cool water on your wrists will help cool you down. (We can now drink ice-water from our fridge!)
  • Use the cold water and a rag for your forehead and neck...ahhhh.
  • Go swimming often, getting wet then cooling off in the shade with a fan or the breeze. Sometimes I'll get goosebumps!
  • Don't do ANYTHING when it's hot. Keep your pulse low and your body relaxed. You'll find resting in the heat of the day the best way to avoid sweating or getting overheated.
  • Get/make covers for your boat. It will drop the inside temperature by 5 to 10 degrees. Very important -- keep all of the deck area out of the sun, don't just cover the cockpit! See our projects page for our sun cover.
  • Fans! Fans! Fans! Oh, and Fans! Windscoops are great too! Sleep with all of them blowing on you.
  • Carry a small hand towel with you to wipe off sweat when you are walking around. In high humidity water doesn't evaporate well and you'll build up a thick layer of sweat that tends to insulate rather than evaporate and cool. The rag will cut down the amount of water leaving a thin layer that will evaporate.
  • Don't bake anything in the oven, unless it is a cool day or the wind is blowing hard. The heat from the oven lingers a long time.

After a while you won't notice the heat much. Sometimes we'd notice how comfortable we were and check the temperature and see it's 95F and be surprised. It takes time and sweat for your body to adapt, so try to keep a good attitude because grousing only makes it seem worse.

About the boat

What improvements work? 

We've done a lot of work over the past 4 years and 6000 miles (now going on about 15,000). Here's a list of what has really improved our boat:

Creature Comforts

  • Lighting: We've installed a small 12V fluorescent light in the galley and above the starboard settee (see our Cool Stuff page). Also I've made LED white and red lights for reading books or charts while on watch at night. I also converted our Davis Anchor Light into a LED based light, as the bulb it was shipped with broke after only 2 days of use.
  • Computer: We can play DVD movies, update our webpage, email people, and play games. Sitting out a nasty storm isn't so bad if you can watch a good movie.
  • Wireless: I designed a directional antenna out of 4 large cans so that we can pickup wireless stations within a mile or so of the boat (see our Cool Stuff page). If we are in a city, chances are we can find a free wireless connection from the boat.
  • Music: We have a little portable CD player that can play MP3's, regular audio CD's and it can read re-writeable CD's. This lets us compress 10 audio CDs into 1 MP3 CD. We hook it up to some simple computer speakers, the kind with a subwoofer and a built in amplifier running on 12V, and we can crank it. If Ipods weren't so expensive, we'd have one of those too.
  • Storage: We added lots of shelves and opened up access to all our storage space. We also spent a lot of time making mental notes of what storage areas needed to be better secured. Every time something fell, we'd make a mental note. After 3 years, we had everything nailed down.
  • Propane: This is really the only way to cook. We've seen it all. If I had to pick a second way to go, maybe kerosene. But preheating the burners and smelling the fuel sucks.
  • Pressure Cooker: It cooks just about everything from bread to beans. Get a good cook book (like "Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure") and practice before moving on board and you'll find the pressure cooker to be your best friend.
  • Heat: We've got to have a way to dry out the inside of the boat. We haven't used it in the tropics since a few cold days in Mazatlan, but there will be a time when we need to dry out. We have a forced air Wallas 30 heater, but in retrospect a small Dickenson diesel heater would have worked fine and cost a lost less.
  • Lounging: Cushions and blankets are great to have around. We made cushion covers that hold our extra bedding (for guests). This way they serve double duty.
  • Cockpit table: Sherrell made a table that slid into our companion way slot for our hatch boards (see our Cool Stuff page). This table has been the greatest thing for improving life on the boat. We use it for eating in the cockpit when at anchor. But while underway, it makes a great navigation table, and a fantastic seat for the person on watch. You can sit on it, with your legs inside the companion way and look out the dodger, like a mini-pilot house. Everyone who sees it really likes it.
  • Sanitation: Our Air Head composting toilet has worked beyond our expectations for over 3 years now. No plumbing, no pumps, no pump-outs, no trouble. It is the best solution for a long distance cruising boat, bar none.
  • Shade: In the baking sun, we throw up the Shade Tree which has tent poles in it and makes a half cylinder shape over the boat and keeps it about 6-10 degrees cooler. It's a great product for blocking rain too (see our Cool Stuff page)!
  • Cold Drinks: Sherrell loves cold drinks more than she knew. After 5 years in the tropics I gave her the Christmas present of refrigeration! We now have a tiny 12V Engel Fridge/freezer. We installed it inside our old icebox. See our March 17, 2009 post "All that work" for photos.

Sailing Related

  • Rigging: By far the single best thing we've done is to install the Strong Track with Selden's single line reefing boom. The Strong Track is a plastic slide that goes inside the mast track and provides a low friction surface for the mainsail's slides. It allows us to drop the sail on ANY angle of wind. Even dead down wind. The single line reefing system allows us to single-handedly reef the main, on any wind angle. I can't begin to describe the security of being able to reef whenever you need to without having to maneuver the boat, or get the other crew member on deck to help. With our relatively small main sail, there isn't much chafe and the system has been working well.
  • Aft Lines: We spent a few weeks planning our routing for key lines back to cockpit: Main Halyard, Staysail Sheets, Two Reefing lines, Vang, Main Sheet, and lines for the Traveler. We left the roller furling genoa halyard at the mast, because you don't do much with that line once the sail is loaded onto the furling system. The spinnaker halyard, toping lift for the pole, and the staysail halyard are all at the mast because you have to prepare the sails on the foredeck, before hoisting them. Having them at the mast allows one person to easily perform this job for dousing and hoisting while watching for trouble in case something wasn't prepared correctly. Everything has worked out great.
  • Sails: Reducing sail area, and balancing the boat properly are keys to enjoying or at least feeling safe in heavy conditions. The staysail has been a key ingredient to comfort. The smaller sail is easy to tack, hoist and trim. It is closer to the center of the boat, so that it reduces yawing in strong gusts and balances the boat nicely. The other aspect is increasing sail area. The spinnaker has been great for moving us in light winds. And it's fun to sail away from boats with almost double our waterline length. Update 3/3/07--we brought a used Drifter which is basically a 190% genoa for the light airs of Central America and now we don't know how we got along without it. It's loose luffed and we can fly it and our genoa for that double-head-sail-down-wind-sleigh-ride effect or just use it reaching or even upwind when it's light.
  • Safety: Tethers and jack lines which we made ourselves with spectra line keep us feeling secure in the dark rolling seas.
  • Electronics: We setup all our navigation gear so it can be operated from inside or entirely from the outside. This means that the person on watch has direct access to the radar, compass, depth sounder, VHF (via remote RAM mic.), and autopilot without disturbing the person down below sleeping. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but for example, when you're off watch and the VHF crackles to life and the person on watch races below to talk on it, you're not going to rest. The SSB is the only instrument that can only be used below deck, but the user can put on head phones to keep it quiet.
  • Self-steering: The trim tab has been great for taming our boat in all types of sea conditions (see our Self-Steering page. We're still working on a wind-driven solution that we feel is ideal, but the autopilot on the trim tab takes only a tiny amount of power and keeps us cruising along.
  • Power: We use a 32W flexible solar panel and 60 Watt rigid solar panel. They do a good job at keeping the batteries full, but we don't have refrigeration or a watermaker on our boat like most people. The only time we have to run the engine is if we watch a lot of movies and the sky stays cloudy for several days.

What would you like to add? 

You can also see our Cool Stuff page and our Self-Steering page for things that we've finished, or are in progress!

Anyway, here's the wish list and why:

  • Tri-color Masthead Light -- it takes less power and is more visible because it is high above the water. We have one, but I need to modify it to use LED lights and work from the same power as our anchor light. UPDATE 10/14/09: Just installed a Bebi LED insert into a used Aqua Signal Tricolor with a Bebi LED anchor light on top and wired it into the mast for low power lights!
  • Small wind or water generator -- something to give us power at night and when there is a lot of cloud cover or not much sun.

    UPDATE 2/11/07: We constructed a water-towed generator from a $40 motor off Ebay and about $20 worth of parts. We might need to tweak the prop a little bit because we aren't getting enough RPM's out of it when sailing at slow speeds. However it turned out great and I'll post a full article on its design this summer!

    UPDATE 10/8/09: Still no real luck at optimizing the generator. I think the shaft and prop are too heavy so I'm looking for some plastic ones to try.

  • Satellite Phone -- we'd like to get a refurbished Motorola Iridium phone for emergencies and for downloading GRIB weather files in the middle of nowhere. A refurbished one runs about $500. Update 10/8/09: So far we haven't found the need for it.
  • Thermoelectric Plate -- we'd like to hook something up to generate cold temperatures for cooling off drinks.

    UPDATE 6/13/05: We bought the material, and I've built and tested the electronics, we just need to finish the installation and test it.

    UPDATE 2/11/07: The plate works well at the dock, but it takes a little more power than we'd like. So we've set that idea aside for now.

  • A larger spinnaker pole -- we need a wider diameter spinnaker pole, but we're not sure where to store it. Our telescoping pole is only strong enough for the genoa, and light air with the spinnaker (or drifter).
  • Other things we just couldn't fit: Kayaks, Hookah for snorkeling and folding bicycles.

How do you conserve water?

We don't have a water maker and we can only carry 68 gallons of fresh water, so we have to be careful with our water use. When it's really hot 100F or more we use about 2.2 gallons a day, but normally we use about 1.7 to 1.9 a day for drinking and cooking. Here's how we do it.

  • No pressure water. We use a manual foot pump for water so that no extra water is wasted.
  • We shower with a bug sprayer. It takes less than 0.5 gallons for both of us to shower using the high pressure sprayer. We keep a separate 4-5 gallons of water on deck to add to the sprayer just for showering or rinsing off. That supply will last almost 2 weeks for showers everyday and/or quick rinsing after swimming.
  • Since we use ice in the ice box, we plumed the drain to a hand pump in the sink which we wash dishes with. UPDATE 10/8/09: Now that we've removed the ice box for our tiny fridge we no longer have the extra rinse water so we usually wash with salt and use the sprayer to rinse. So now we wash the dishes with salt water and then rinse with a spray bottle of fresh water (extreme conservation) or from the sink fresh water pump (regular conservation).
  • The pump that drains the ice box can be switched to salt water for when we run out of ice water. UPDATE 10/8/09: Now with the ice box gone we just use this for salt water for washing.
  • We've yet to cruise somewhere with significant rain, but we'd definitely catch it if we could with our new rain catcher. UPDATE 10/8/09: Great luck with the rain catcher, but it turns out we made it out of a material that molds (which is bad in the tropics). So we need to find a better material to make a new one.
  • Laundry can only be done with rainwater or when there is a town nearby for supplying water.

What kind of dinghy do you have?

We really like our hard dinghy. It is a small little dinghy about 8 feet long and it is a nice little sailing dinghy. We bought it used with the sailing gear for about $350 as it was damaged from falling out of a truck. Originally we really wanted to get a "Fatty Knees" dinghy, but we couldn't justify the price for one of those beauties. The builder though, was kind enough to send us a detailed brochure, and from that we were able to see how he built his boats. So we gutted our beater and rebuilt it using the Fatty as a guideline. We typically row the boat or motor with a little outboard.

Once we finally moved on board, we ended up storing the hard dinghy on the bow over the hatch. As things work out, when it is pouring rain or spraying saltwater, we can still leave the hatch open for air and the dinghy keeps out the water. Also, we had to cut down the mast by about 2 feet, and about a 1 foot off the boom so that we could store the sailing gear down below.

To top it off, we bought some "Dinghy Dogs" which are inflatable tubes that you can attach to the side of a hard dinghy so that it won't capsize. This is great for diving, snorkeling or just making the boat stable for guests. Walker Bay also makes tubes that attach to the sides of the dinghy which are much smaller, but I think they would probably be a better all-around compromise.

Ok, all that said, I have to mention we also have an inflatable. Two of them actually. We found both of them (in the trash), patched them up and we use them for times when we need to transport lots of people or things. One of them is in someone's house, but we keep the bigger one, 10 feet, on the boat rolled up under the hard dinghy. We don't use it often, but it is nice to have such a large dinghy as a backup. The disadvantages of the inflatable: hard to clean the bottom of shells and scum, they leak, popular to steal. Advantages: holds more crap and is light (no rigid bottom).

What kind of outboard do you have?

Everyone who we've ever met has told us to buy a big outboard. I don't know why. Fortunately I didn't listen to all the opinions on this subject and we bought a "wimpy" outboard. It's a Honda 2 hp 4 stroke that is air cooled. The three good things about it are: weight, fuel consumption and simplicity. The bad things about it: we can't race through the anchorage like everyone else and since it's air-cooled it is noisy.

The engine is really easy to take off because it weighs about 20 pounds. The 2 hp hardly uses any fuel. It has an integrated fuel tank, so we carry a 1 quart oil container (filled with gas) as a backup. We can go for 3-4 miles with just the one tank and we only carry about 2 gallons of gasoline which lasts several months. Being air-cooled, we can start the engine on the beach, push the dinghy into the surf, jump in and floor it. Oh, yeah, it is also a 4 stroke (like all Hondas are now) so there's no mixing gas or nasty smoke.

Yeah we don't go very fast, but if there is any chop on the water most people don't plane their dinghies because of the spray, and we end up doing about the same speed. I don't quite understand why some sailors will happily go 500 miles at 5 knots, but when they jump into their dinghy, it's full throttle 15 knots just to go half a mile. Perhaps they feel the need for speed, but for us wimpy works. On the rare occasion, it would be nice to go 3+ miles to snorkel or provision without having to move the boat, but we've never found it necessary.

UPDATE 3/3/07 -- if you followed our Slog you'll know we had a hell of a time getting the Honda running after it sat all summer (2006). I learned the hard way that 4 stroke carburetors need to be cleaned with chemicals and pressure, simple cleaning might look good cosmetically, but to get it working properly we had to go industrial on it. And it's been running great since.

UPDATE 5/10/09 -- We spent a lot of time replacing all the things that Honda supposedly has fixed since our model was sold. But it is starting to get harder to start. Getting down to 3 pulls and Sherrell finds it too hard to start. It is about 5 years old now so it is starting to show its age.

What kind of SSB do you have?

Not knowing any better, we bought the top of the line ICOM M802 SSB (single-side-band radio) with an AT140 antenna tuner. It is really a great radio, but in retrospect it is overpriced because it is so new to the market. The best part about the radio which attracted me, from a radio engineer's viewpoint, is their use of a digital oscillator and control loop (DDS direct digital synthesizer). This allows for extremely accurate frequency control and very pure signals. Anyway, I think the radio takes too much power in receive mode and it requires a frustrating "secret command" sequence to unlock it for typical HAM use.

There's a bunch of older models that would work fine on a boat and cost half as much. We did all our own installation, ground plane and cabling, but it was still a pricey purchase. When buying an older model make sure the audio will connect with your Laptop (you might need to make a cable) and that it will interface with a Pactor modem if you want SSB e-mail. You may also need to buy an audio filter to make it compatible with your email provider (sailmail or winlink).

How do you track the current weather conditions?

In the USA and Canada we just use the VHF radio, simple quick and easy. You should note, though, that offshore forecasts average the wind and wave conditions and the wind you experience could be 50% more.

Now that we have a Pactor II modem, we can request weather from the internet over email. I've written a detailed document of how to retrieve all sorts of weather information from Buoyweather.com, NOAA, QuickSAT, GRIB files, and private weather stations over email. You can download the file here and cut-and-paste them into your email messages to retrieve weather information.

So basically the SSB radio takes over. We use the SSB, our laptop and XAXERO software for receiving weather faxes and Navtex forecasts from broadcast stations around the world. The SSB can also pick up voice forecasts and "Nets" where amateur weather forecasters give predictions for your part of the world (if you can hear them, and they are doing weather for your area). In Mexico, the Amigo Net and the Southbound Net are two good ones we try to catch everyday.

If we have internet access or email, we can download GRIB files which are compact models of the expected wind and wave conditions all over the world. We use XAXERO's Deep Plot (now called WindPlot) to display the data and now there are other free programs that can plot grib data from grib files. We also use QuickSCAT which measures the current wind speeds by satellite so we can check the measured data against the models, like GRIB files. (UPDATE: 2010, The main quickscat satelites are no longer functional, but the European system which is less accurate and slower still provides some of this data) Weather Underground, Buoyweather and NOAA are also good sources for predictions. If you have SSB email, you can get GRIB files and other weather info emailed directly to your boat, which is the main reason to consider a Pactor modem for your SSB (see next question and answer)

I stumbled across a page that references Don Anderson of Summer Passage's weather resources on the internet. He is the one and only amateur forecaster that provides weather information to the boats in Mexico, Central America and the South Pacific. He knows his stuff and this is probably the best list of resources I've seen.

Why did you install a Pactor modem?

Well, getting email on the boat anywhere on the big blue is a huge plus. There is also a way to retrieve lots of web information over your email. We bought a used Pactor IIe off Ebay which was disguised as an old Pin Oak data box for about $200, so it was a deal we couldn't refuse. Signing up for SailMail at $250/year was a bit disappointing, but their service has been outstanding. UPDATE: 10/08/09 I completed our ham tests in Ecuador so we can use the free winlink HAM service now. It will be interesting to compare the two.

Update: 2010 The winlink system is way busier than the sailmail system. I have found it difficult to get on at times, but it works. Sailmail on the other hand is much faster to fix problems and provides support because they are member oriented ($).

How do you keep track of the tides?

We use a free program on our laptop called WTides. Also, we have a similar version of the program ("Tidetools") that runs on our Palm PDA and we just select the country that we want to download the tide database into the PDA. We also have a free tide program that runs on Linux. And a fourth free tide program we use is WXTide32, it has an extra tide station or two the others don't have.

What software programs do you use often?

  • Hot Spot Shield -- a free virtual private network (VPN) tool. I use this when I'm connecting to an unknown internet connection, like some random wi-fi network, or plugging into an internet cafe. It encrypts all of the wireless internet traffic and keeps everything secure. UPDATE 2010: Unfortunatly they now pay for their service using banner adds which is a bit annoying.
  • ZoneAlarm -- free tool that helps block open ports and provides packet filtering on your computer.
  • Skype -- almost free ($0.02 / min.) world-wide calling that you can do from your laptop with a wireless or LAN connection.
  • Cartes du Ciel -- (Sky Charts) a great free program for plotting the stars and planets.
  • Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware -- Free program that removes all kinds of spy ware and other naughty stuff that sometimes ends up on your computer. This has been one of the best free tools we've found and it has been able to catch and correct just about everything.
  • AVAST! -- Antivirus program that is free with free updates. They are very quick to respond to outbreaks and the software has caught many nasties trying to break into our computer. You have to dig around on their site to find the Free Home version.
  • Eye Of the Storm -- A program that contains all the historical hurricane and storm data that can track storms in real-time assuming you have an internet connection. Unfortunately the version we have only covers Eastern Pacific and Atlantic hurricanes.
  • Weather Fax 2000 -- Xaxero makes a very nice sound card based weather fax program that interfaces to the audio of our SSB for Navtex and weather faxes. They also make a WindPlot (not free either) program for displaying GRIB files. As an option to WindPlot, you can now get a free application from Airmail (ViewFax), which will let you view GRIB files.
  • GNU CASH -- We track every dollar we spend in the free GnuCash (used to use Quicken) to keep our expenses under tight control -- and I do mean every dollar. Gnucash works on multiple platforms and is free, unlike quicken. It can also connect to your on-line accounts just like quicken, but for free.
  • Microsoft Picture It! -- Good for touching up photographs, although google's Picaso is rapidly improving and it is free.
  • Microsoft Movie Maker -- Free program for making movies with lots of effects. It's easy and free and if you have XP, you probably already have it installed in your Program Files directory.
  • Microsoft Photo Story 3 -- Free program for making interesting slide shows, and a good tool to prep scenes for Movie Maker.
  • DVD Shrink -- Free program that can remove region information, so if you rent a DVD outside of the US, you can remove the region information to play it.
  • LINUX -- we've been using a number of distros over the years and have found the OS and applications to be improving rapidly. Our new netbook computer will be running Linux, so look for more updates about it here in the future.

About the Website

Who hosts it and how did you make it?

We used to use Microsoft's Frontpage 2003 to build the HTML. But it was a terrible program that generated miles of HTML just to do the simpliest things. Now I hand code everything. Most of the text is stored in a database, then pulled out and displayed using PHP. A lot of what you are reading is generated dynamically. For example this page uses PHP, Javascript, Jquery and MySQL. These are all things I've learned in my spare time as a hobby. PHP is very similar to C/C++ and it has become one of my favorite languages. I also really like Python, but I haven't had much time to do much programming with it, but that's a different story.

Our web host is P4host. A cheap company at about $4/month run by guy who is technically savvy and quick to fix problems. http://www.p4host.com The service's reliability isn't bad, but it does go down once in a couple years.

Our host uses provides a variety of ways to access our data and update our pages.

What is a SLOG?

Back in the day (2002-2004) we used to write very long stories about our adventures. Many people liked them but they were a true labor to put together.

Then we learned about blogging (web log=blog) and started our own thing (ship's log=slog) using shorter more frequent stories. This format is a little easier to maintain for us and you don't have to be a dedicated reader to follow along if you wish.

An odd effect is when we meet friends again and start to tell them a story we are often stopped with, "oh yeah, we read about that on your slog." So it's nice to tell our tales on-line, but it sometimes cuts down on the bar material.

Who hosts it and how did you make it?

We used to use Microsoft's Frontpage 2003 to build the HTML. But it was a terrible program that generated miles of HTML just to do the simpliest things. Now I hand code everything. Most of the text is stored in a database, then pulled out and displayed using PHP. A lot of what you are reading is generated dynamically. For example this page uses PHP, Javascript, Jquery and MySQL. These are all things I've learned in my spare time as a hobby. PHP is very similar to C/C++ and it has become one of my favorite languages. I also really like Python, but I haven't had much time to do much programming with it, but that's a different story.

Our web host is P4host. A cheap company at about $4/month run by guy who is technically savvy and quick to fix problems. http://www.p4host.com The service's reliability isn't bad, but it does go down once in a couple years.

Our host uses provides a variety of ways to access our data and update our pages.

Why make a naviagtion page? Doesn't everyone use GPS

In all our sailing we only met one boat that shuns GPS. I don't know why, it's cheap and easy. But that doesn't mean you should rely on it completely. It's good to have other skills besides pushing the "on" button.

There were two main reasons for creating those pages which were a lot of work. The technique for dead reckoning is something I've been thinking about for a long time. I've never seen any text that has non-graphical method for dead reckoning. The method of using the tables is quick and simple. It doesn't involve trying to use plotting tools accurately while the boat is pitching and rolling around. You don't need plotting paper either for the scales. So in essence I had to get my idea of a new way to dead reckon out there somehow. You can read more here under Dead Reckoning.

The second reason is because with Celestial Navigation you need to get a new book every year. While it's a good idea to always have the Nautical Almanac handy, it can be hard to find in foreign ports or if you abandon ship. So, the page I developed allows you to make your own tables for any year and print them out. You can also print out the correction tables and even the Dead Reckoning tables. Pack these 3 pages together with a solar calculator and a compass and store them in your overboard bag. You can keep a second set in the chart table. The only table you have to generate is for the meridian passage of the sun, and you can do it for multiple years, compress the printout so you can get 4 pages on a single page and your ready to navigate. You can read more about Noonsites.

What else am I missing?

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