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ISS-RapidScat? Finding the hidden cycles of wind from space

Posted on Sunday Sep 21, 2014

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In attempt to take my mind off current events, I'm going to geek out and talk about something exciting to me, RapidScat.  First off, RapidScat isn't something an animal does on the run.  It refers to scatterometry where radio waves are scattered on the surface of something then the result is measured.  In this case, scattering microwaves on the ocean reveals the wind direction and strength at the surface.

Back in 2009 the old QuickScat satellite antennas stopped rotating.  This means that it stopped sending data consistently back to Earth.  Well, most of the ocean is not monitored with surface instruments and QuickScat was absolutely the best space based tool for measuring the winds in critical places where dangerous winds can form (think hurricanes or Tehuantepec).

So in 2009 the ocean wind forecast accuracy took a punch to the gut and NASA scrambled to find a way to fix it.  In just too years they cobbled together a great idea.  They took QuickScat gear and found a way to mount it to the ISS and the ISS-RapidScat was born.


The RapidScat system launched today, 9/21/14 (along with the much hyped 3-d printer).  Soon this instrument, the first pointed at the Earth from the ISS, will be spewing data to help calibrate and measure winds in all those remote parts of the world that are critical to sailors and people who model world-wide weather (NOAA).

We can expect to finally get highly accurate data on katabatic, thermal and storm generated winds.  With this new accuracy NOAA is going to start a new study of the diurnal and semi-diurnal winds in the open ocean.  Something many sailors experience but hard to believe.  Thermal winds in the middle of the ocean?!  Where's the land to heat it up?

It is well know from buoy observations that winds in the tropics can exhibit strong diurnal and semi-diurnal cycles, forced by solar heating or tidal effects respectively (Deser and Smith, 1998; Dai and Deser, 1999; Ueyama and Deser, 2008). In the tropical Pacific, semi-diurnal variations account for 68% of the mean daily variance of the zonal wind component, while diurnal variations account for 82% of the mean daily variance of the meridional wind component (Deser and Smith, 1998). These cyclic processes are known to be important in influencing the diurnal cycle of cloud formation and precipitation in the tropics, a key component of the Earth's water and energy cycles.

RapidScat will collect data over the course of years and this will be used to look at daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly wind patterns.  Surprisingly this has never been done before and sailors rely on "Pilot Charts" which are averages from ships traveling the ocean averaged over decades.  RapidScat will measure the entire planet every 2 days instead of just a point.  It will reveal many hidden patterns of weather and winds.

This will be a revolution in understanding wind patterns and hopefully we can all through out those old Pilot Charts and update them with a much more accurate understanding of surface winds.

Further reading:
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-223
https://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/RapidScat/

Oahu, Sunsets, Life

Posted on Saturday Sep 20, 2014

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Overdue for updates...I know.  Now that Sherrell has fully recovered from her broken knee we've been doing more hiking and biking.  I've started playing some basketball, which I haven't done in probably 20 years and it makes me feel old and very sore.  But hopefully it will get easier.

One of our family members is succumbing to cancer after a long battle and Sherrell traveled back to the mainland to be there.  Unfortunately, we can't both go because someone has to tend the boat and watch our kitty.  During my alone time here I took some photos of where the boat is.


I've also been working on some of the little projects that require a lot of disruption...new plumbing and electrical stuff.  It's a lot easier to make big messes if there is one less person tripping over everything.  She'll be back next week just in time to see how clean everything is.

I'm sad I can't be there to help out, but it's good Sherrell was able to make it.  I find it hard not to second guess the treatments or the options.  That is the thing. You never get used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it's reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again.

Hurricanes Suck -- Odile included

Posted on Saturday Sep 20, 2014

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Here in Hawaii we were pretty lucky.  Normally these tropical revolving storms weaken before they hit the islands, assuming the rare case happens when they make it all the way out here.  However, Mexico is often not so lucky.

September was always the month that made us most nervous in Mexico.  Hurricanes forming in the Gulf of Mexico tend to follow a retrograde path back into Mexico.  And with the warm waters they rarely weaken.

It seems that Baja tends to play the role of a barrier island for much of northern Mexico.  This year Baja took a pounding.  I've been surprised at the lack of news coverage.  We know many people on boats in these areas and there's been a lot of damage including severe power outages.


 (© 2015 iTravelCabo.com)

(La Paz Airport.  © 2014 Merry Colins)

I don't know what the death toll will be once they fully restore communications and power, but we've already heard of several deaths from boaters who went down with their sinking boats.

There was widespread damage to the marina areas of Cabo, La Paz, Puerto Escondido and even San Carlos had some damage.

(© 2014 Jim Cochran)

During an El Nino year there are more storms and they tend to be more powerful.  In fact a followup storm Polo is headed just to the west of Baja right now.  Hopefully this keeps going west.

We hear there are around 50 boats that have been damaged in various areas and they have our sympathies.  Hopefully they're able to get their lives back on track along with all the locals who've had their homes damaged too.

The text at the end of this video translates to:
Southern Baja needs your help
The looting was done by those affected by the hurricane, people who had little and were left with nothing and by criminals who do not represent the honest people and workers around South Baja
Do not judge
Donate
Do it

Broken Bones and Building Boats

Posted on Monday Jul 7, 2014

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Since getting the boat listed we've been busy having fun.  We started hiking and biking.  All was good until Sherrell took a spill and landed on the edge of a curb right on her knee.  It turned into a cantaloupe and we took her to the ER (after she somehow managed to bike 1.5 miles back to the car).

Ouch!  Completely fractured patella (knee cap).  The image on the right is the ER and the one on the left (poor quality) after 5 weeks where it has fused to about 70%.  It took about 8 weeks and now Sherrell is back on the bike and building up her muscles again.

The tough part was we had to abandon our home immediately because she could not get on or off the boat at all.  So we rented a fully furnished vacation condo (with hot tub) down town.  It was actually about the same price as renting a run down 1 bedroom with no furniture.

Now we are back on the boat and have moved to another harbor.  We started a project to build ourselves a large rowing dinghy that we didn't mind getting dinged up because this harbor is a bit rough.  We didn't want Sarana's main dinghy to get banged up after all the work we did on it for listing the boat.

We started with plywood and some free plans off the internet.  Here's basic structure with floor, walls, transom and the stations in place.  Still needs the seams fiberglassed and the joints glued and filled.



And this is what it looked like after it was glassed and the temporary stations removed.  We just set the seat in there for the photo.  The darker color of the wood is due to the 3 coats of epoxy we rolled on it to seal the surfaces and the white you see is the epoxy fills to even out the edges for fiber glassing.


And here it is all painted with the hardware installed.


Rowing it is fun because it is so light!


Now we own 3 boats!  And I'm sure the people on the dock are glad the project is done...no more sounds of power tools and shop vacs!

Sarana is for sale

Posted on Thursday Apr 3, 2014

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Wow!  It's been a great ride, literately.  We gave it a lot of thought and we decided 11 years of living aboard and traveling can't be beat. There's really no way to top it.  Life however has conspired to push us in another direction and we decided perhaps we'll try to sell the boat here in Hawaii, a beautiful tropical spot that is central to all things in the Pacific.

Sarana looks great and is ready to sail!  Check out our photos and info that we put up on Yacht World.

The loss of Switchblade in Thailand

Posted on Sunday Dec 1, 2013

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I was busy procrastinating on the computer and went to sailinganarchy.com  to see if there were any interesting stories when I got punched in the gut by their main photo.


I immediately recognized Switchblade in the photo.  Not many boats are painted with the exact same paint as a Ferrari.  In hopes they saved the boat, I searched the internet for information.

This was when I learned the newest owners have been chartering the boat in Thailand for races.  And there were some nice photos and they had added some tacky sponsor stickers to the hull.


We had some great races on that boat.  But what happened?!   Is the boat ok?  Sherrell managed to track down the story.  Apparently a squall rolled through and brought a lot of large waves that in 10 minutes pushed all of Mike Downard's "Sail in Asia" sailing school boats, which included two the region's famous sailboats Switchblade and Tag.

From the sounds of it they were all anchored and the owner raced down to check on them only to find them all up on the beach.  Switchblade had the keel ripped off.  I have to warn you the next photo is distrubing.

 
It really brought me down.  We had a lot of fun on that boat and admittedly I hadn't thought about it for years until I was gut-punched by its loss.

What did you do on Thanksgiving and Black Friday?

Posted on Friday Nov 29, 2013

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This is the first time in many years we've been in the US for the holidays and I was totally perplexed by all this conversation about "Black Friday".  I kept reminding myself to check the stock market and see what everyone is talking about.  Then I saw a Daily Show where they were making fun of the "news" coverage of Black Friday and what stores were open...oh yeah, shopping.

We spent our holiday low-key as usual.  A sailboat was pulled off a reef last week and limped into the spot next to us with some bottom damage.  I spent Thanksgiving helping him and another guy prepare to extract his big spade rudder so he could repair it.  Then on Black Friday (stupid name if you ask me, perhaps accountants like the sound of it) we extracted it from his boat.

It's a big heavy rudder and naturally it leaves a big empty hole in the bottom, so it's a job you have to take your time with and be very careful.  There is a real chance you could hurt someone and/or sink the boat.

I'm happy to report it all went well -- no injuries no sunken boat -- and is off to get repaired.   Sherrell heard all the commotion while we were trying to keep the rudder under control and load it into the dinghy and snapped a couple photos.   Perhaps we'll use them for holiday cards.



What did you do on Thanksgiving and Black Friday?2

Posted on Friday Nov 29, 2013

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This is the first time we've been in the US for the holidays and I was totally perplexed by all this conversation about "Black Friday".  I kept reminding myself to check the stock market and see what everyone is talking about.  Then I saw a Daily Show where they were making fun of the "news" coverage of Black Friday and what stores were open...oh yeah, shopping.

We spent our holiday low-key as usual.  A sailboat was pulled off a reef last week and limped into the spot next to us with some bottom damage.  I spent Thanksgiving helping him and another guy prepare to extract his big spade rudder so he could repair it.  Then on Black Friday (stupid name if you ask me) we extracted it from his boat.

It's a big heavy rudder and naturally it leaves a big empty hole in the bottom, so it's a job you have to take your time with and be very careful.  There is a real chance you could hurt someone and/or sink the boat.

I'm happy to report it all went well -- no injuries no sunken boat -- and is off to get repaired.   Sherrell heard all the commotion while we were trying to keep the rudder under control and load it into the dinghy and snapped a couple photos.   Perhaps we'll use them for holiday cards.



Brewing Beer on a Boat

Posted on Saturday Nov 23, 2013

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Often on a boat there's too many things to fix.  Sometimes the only solution is procrastination.  A great way to do this is by making beer!  Something we've been trying to perfect for a while on our boat.  By no means whatsoever are we experts, but we have a system now that works for us, so I thought I'd share it.

I don't go into how to brew beer, but rather how to do it on a boat where space and water are a tough to compromise.   Give it a read.

People!

Posted on Thursday Nov 7, 2013

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This post contains a GPS location. Click here to see it on the map.

That was the first thing I noticed after rounding the famous Diamond Head point. There were people! After a month of touring the Hawaiian Islands we haven't seen any other cruising boats and we only met a handful of people. We came out of the ocean swell and wind to the leeward side of Oahu and BOOM! Parasailors, tour boats, sail boats, motor boats, submarines, surfers, kayaks, Coast Guard...it was like Maui times 10 or Molokai times 10 million.

photo of passing by Diamond Head to Waikiki and Honolulu
(photo of passing by Diamond Head to Waikiki and Honolulu)

We are still trying to get a med-moor style slip and get our paperwork approved, so they stuck us at a public loading dock. We should get a spot assigned soon. But it has been a long long time since we were in a real city with the boat...and we are really IN the city.

In Molokai

We haven't written much because we've been having fun. We visited the Big Island, Molokini, parts of Maui and now we are anchored in Molokai! It's been hot with the temperatures near 90 and there's no sign of fall approaching, much less winter.

Today is Sherrell's B-day! We made her some cupcakes...chocolate of course. Tomorrow we are going to "borrow" a car and do a tour of the island for a couple of days. Molokai has been a very friendly place and there are many things here that remind us of Mexico. (I should probably clarify that this is a good thing because I understand that many people have the wrong impression of Mexico based solely on news coverage.)

The trades are expected to pickup this week so we might be here for a while waiting for a window to get to Oahu, but that's ok because the anchorage is calm and we aren't in a hurry to start working on the boat and rushing around the big city of Honolulu just yet.

In Molokai2

We haven't written much because we've been having fun. We visited the Big Island, Molokini, parts of Maui and now we are anchored in Molokai! It's been hot in the 90's and there's no sign of fall approaching, much less winter. Today is Sherrell's B-day we made her some cupcakes...chocolate of course. Tomorrow we are going to "borrow" a car and do a tour of the island for a couple of days. Molokai has been a very friendly place and there are many things here that remind us of Mexico. (I should probably clarify that this is a good thing because I understand that many people have the wrong impression of Mexico based solely on news coverage.) The trades are expected to pickup this week so we might be here for a while waiting for a window to get to Oahu, but that's ok because the anchorage is calm and we aren't in a hurry to start working on the boat and rushing around the big city of Honolulu just yet.

Leaving the Big Island

Posted on Monday Oct 14, 2013

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The Frog King, the Fishing Lady and many others will be missed but NOT the ice machine.  Our past couple of months inside the Wailoa Harbor (which is really just a tiny boat basin) hasn't been dull.  When your boat is parked curb-side and open to the  public 24/7 you get to meet everyone.  Really the only downside with this very public spot is the ice machine that is about 50 feet from our bow that dumps out about 100 pounds of ice every hour and has a motor that won't quit along with a work crew that starts around 3am with lots of shouting and music.  Other than that it has been interesting seeing the world go by and floating in what amounts to a fresh water river that keeps the bottom of our boat super clean.

We've enjoyed our time here on the Big Island but it is time for us to sail on to Maui and the other islands.  Friends are going to ship our car to us on Oahu once we get there so we'll have transportation again which will be fun.

We are both a bit anxious to get moving again.  Three must be something wrong with us. 

Here's a parting shot of our boat in the basin with big-ol' Mauna Kea with its telescopes in the background.  Awesome.


Brewing beer and 40 bottles of beer on the boat

Posted on Wednesday Jul 31, 2013

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UPDATE: Check out our guide to brewing beer on a boat.

What do you get when you combine some starches, Hilo rain water and yeast?  Vog Head IPA!  Vog is volcanic fog and it drifts around the islands Volcanoes depending on the wind direction.  It's toxic and can be quite a pest sometimes.  Since we were using rain water we thought it might make a subtle difference to the beer.  Ok, we also thought it makes a great name for a beer.  Vog is a very unique feature to the Big Island of Hawai'i and even the WikiPedia page for Vog features Hilo.

The past year or so we've been experimenting with brewing our own beer.  We've learned a few things about it and how to do it best on the boat.  Now we've refined our technique and upped the brew size to almost 4 gallons.

In this picture you'll see our white fermentation bucket (food grade) with a spigot and a vapor lock.  Then we have our 16qt. stainless pot for brewing.  And since we are beer snobs, we have to have some fresh grains.  We use a "mash extract" technique where we crack the grains (for best freshness) with the grinder you see on the stove, and then we soak them in a bag we made out of bridal vale material.  We also use some dry and liquid malt extract just to make the ingredients more portable.


Then we cooked it with the malt, grains and hops, which is a hot job in the tropics!


This is our biggest batch of brown sugary stuff yet!  Hard to believe that turns into beer, but add some bacteria and it does the work.  It takes about 10 days to ferment in our warmer climate we can't keep it at the proper temperature so we have to be careful not to let it sit too long.
We were a bit worried how our 4 gallons of bubbling beer would do during the tropical storm that came through, but fortunately we didn't get bounced around too much and the beer looks and smells good.
When it's done fermenting it's time to break out the freshly sterilized bottles, bottle caps and priming sugar!
Now the hardest part is letting them "bottle condition" for weeks.  Agh!
Some of the tricks we've worked on refining is using minimal water for sterilization and cleaning.  We've also have a system the eliminates the need for a bottling bucket, siphon, and a second fermenter.  It's a work in progress so we'll see how Vog Head turns out when the bottles are ready to be cracked open.  I hope it's good!

Mauna Kea Biggest Mountain in the World

Posted on Tuesday Jul 9, 2013

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Sure it's only 13,796 feet above sea level, but measured from it's oceanic base it stands 33,500 feet (more than twice the base-to-peak height of Everest).  No sherpas or clamp-ons for us -- we drove to the top

I've always been a big Astronomy fan and ever since playing around in the University Observatory many years ago I've wanted to see the best facility this side of our atmosphere for a long time.  I wasn't dissappointed.

On a rare clear day you can even see some of the large telescopes perched on top.


From the visitors center at 9,000 feet we climbed a small hill to try to acclimated as we both felt the altitude.


At the dizzying top we were freezing cold, the wind was cranking and the views were stunning.  (Yes that's me in foul weather gear)



While it was pretty cool to drive up to 13,700 feet.  It was even cooler to see the tools we as a species have built here just to look at the sky and search for answers.








My personal favorite was the Submillimeter Array (see the photo with Sherrell and one of the big dishes).   And I also liked the James Clerk Maxwell submillimeter telescope.  We were going to sneak in on a tour that was looking at it, but we were spotted so we just stayed outside...bummer.

In the cheesiest sort of ways seeing this massive investment in pure science research from countries all around the world gives me hope for the future.   Learn about the 12 Observatories here or check out some live webcams of the mountain top.

It's not so much the mountain top that is spectacular, but rather the things you can see from it.  I'll leave you with one amazing image from Mauna Kea:  Interacting Galaxies NGC474 (Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope).


Over 260 Days at sea

Posted on Sunday Jul 7, 2013

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When we crossed from Mexico to Hawaii each evening we listened to other sailors checking into the long range radio network.  At the top of the list (goes by longest number of days at sea to least number of days) was Jeanne Socrates on Nereida.  She was doing a non-stop solo round the world sail (not her first attempt either).  We listened as she sailed around New Zealand and started working her final leg back to Victoria, Canada.

An amazing story in itself.  But long after we arrived in Hawaii and during our time of climbing volcanoes and hiking jungles she has continued on day after day.  Now she is less than 60 miles from the end and there is no wind.  There's been little or no wind for some time on her leg home.  Once she reported in 24 hours later that she had managed to go backwards.

Now on about day 260 I decided to see how she's doing.  She's in range of the US/Canada coastal AIS tracking system so you can see live updates of her position with her track history.  I was surprised to see her still struggling to get home.


Can you image the intense frustration to be able to see your destination yet, be going backwards?    260 days at sea.  That's 6,240 hours of sailing.  Compare that to your average 40 hour work week and that's almost 3 years of being "on the job".  With only 60 miles to go you can bet she wants a vacation.

Hilo and More -- June Photos

Posted on Thursday Jul 4, 2013

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We've been having so much fun here.  But we are leery of the strict laws regarding boats in Hawaii.  Sometimes the only solution for living on your boat can be to move it on land.  We helped Dan and Sylvie move Ustupu onto a flat bed which they trucked to a nice plot of land about 25 miles from the bay.  Why?  Well getting a permanent mooring is almost impossible and you can't live on your boat for more than 90 days before you have to leave.  So out came the boat!


And down the road USTUPU goes:



There are some fun aspects of Hilo we 've been enjoying a lot.  There is a farmer's market right down town run mostly by Philipinas.  Much of the produce is from the Island and the variety is incredible.  It's a lot like being in Latin America but the produce is often pesticide free or organic.



And there are parks about every 100 feet with Banyan Trees expertly maximizing their photosynthesis and providing shade for us.


We've also hiked to some of the local waterfalls and lava tubes.

 

We took an amazing hike to Pu'u O'o Crater which is very active right now.  While this trail is officially closed, we read the reports and tried it out.  There was a 4 mile tropical rain forest hike, which took us up to edge of the lava flow.  We were surprised to see that when we emerged from the forest the heat waves across the rocks were distorting everything.  The lava has moved well past the boundary it reached during a large flow in '86 to '89.  So far in fact it was in the process of burning all the vegetation around us.  We could hear trees crackling and burning and there were areas of rock that would just suddenly start smoking!  Good to know we could be airlifted out in an emergency...or was this just a cruel joke?




Let me tell you this stuff was HOT and fresh.  Fortunately the wind was blowing in the right direction to keep the toxic gas and smoke away from us.  After seeing how the world around us was burning we didn't linger long.


We were LAVA struck!  So we took another hike to the area where it pours into the ocean were the gods Pele (lava) and Poli`ahu (water) do constant battle.  This is the same lava flowing underground from the Pu'u O'o crater which was several miles up the hill from this location by the sea.






We also made a mesmerizing video of the lava in the "Burn baby burn" post.  Incredible isn't it?

Aloha from the Big Island - May Photos

Posted on Thursday Jul 4, 2013

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Happy Independence Day!  Last year we watched fireworks over New York City and this year it's going  to be over the top of our boat.  However Hilo's $20,000 budget is probably about 200x less than the NYC show.  Nonetheless we'll have ring side seat.


I'm catching up on our May photos!  So let's rewind!

How did our kitty Jordan do on the trip?  We were anxious to know, but she didn't seem to really notice.  Once in a while she'd slide of a table or along the floor and seem confused, but for the most part this during picture shows her crashed in our bunk wedged in:


And here she is the day after we arrived stretched out in the bed.  Not much difference.


Kate came to meet Michael and they rented a place on the other side of the island and a giant car to tour with.  They took us to see waterfalls!


The amazing Waipio Valley!

 They showed us where lava comes from:


And how to stop it from spreading over the road:

And at night we watched the center of the Earth leak out of Kilauea Crater.

 
We swam in hot pools warmed by the this molten stuff too:

And saw some reptiles relaxing on the beach too.

We also swam with dolphins (I posted a the video in a blog post a few posts back) and we celebrated my birthday (Eric) with "Chocolate Lava Cake".  Best time anyone could ever have!

Burn baby burn

Posted on Sunday Jun 23, 2013

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Lava is hot.  2800 degrees F hot.  Hot enough to glow.  Hot enough to instantly evaporate sea water.  And hot enough to remove your leg hairs when you stand too close to it.

We hiked out across the black rock fields to a billowing cloud of steam and were amazed at the power pouring out from deep inside the Earth.  And of course we did what any normal primate would do:  we poked at it with sticks and stuff.


Hilo is Heaven

Posted on Thursday Jun 20, 2013

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I can't say we are enjoying Hilo.  It just isn't enough.  We love it here.  There I said it.  Will Hilo will say it back?  These things can take time, I know.  There are a lot of restrictions on boats and for people living on their boats in Hawaii which makes the politics of just hanging out here complicated.  But with some luck we'll overcome them.  So far only the politics have been the downside.

Hilo has a lot going for it.  It's a low key working town with few tourists.  The weather is perfect for us:  daily sun and rain.  The mooring we are on is behind a protected breakwater and just off a pretty public park where we can land our dinghy.  People paddle their kayaks and paddle boards by us everyday from the park where they also picnic and fish (often both at the same time).  There are no less than 4 parks within a mile of us.  We can walk down town and never have to worry about surf landings with the dinghy.

Literately from the minute our feet first touched the soil people have gone out of their way to help us out.  They've been AMAZINGLY friendly.  After being here almost 7 weeks now I keep waiting to see the other side of the coin, but it's all good.

When Kate and Michael were here we toured a lot of the island.  We even swam with dolphins:


If you're thinking it can't get any better -- it does.  We bought a great little car and now we are hitting the hiking trails.  We've hiked lava tubes, waterfalls, near very active lava craters, tropical rain forests, and taken tons of photos which we haven't even begun to sort through (sorry).

We've been behind on our slog updates as internet is a bit patchy and we've been busy getting settled.  We'll get some photos up soon.

Day 28 - Booyah!

Posted on Friday May 3, 2013

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This post contains a GPS location. Click here to see it on the map.

6:30 am -- anchored in Hilo.



Cat cleared all her rabis free requirements (no small or cheap task).  Crew also rabis free and resting comfortably in calm water.

I can't wait to see Sherrell tomorrow.  Did we time that perfectly or what?