Category archives: Gear

Delorme inReach Review.

Stuck here in West-End Bahamas, I might as well post something hopefully useful. With satellite phones still being out of financial reach, I decided to get a Delorme inReach satellite communicator. The Spot was another option, but the inReach has better global coverage and allows texting. Mine is the SE model, without the navigation features, bought for $300. The expedition plan offers unlimited texting for $65 a month.

Delorme inReach SE

Delorme inReach SE

The device feels sturdy enough. I can attest of its waterproofing in Dagny’s cockpit, and after a few fresh water rinses. My only wish is that Delorme had made it with a flat bottom so you could stand it up on a table.

The inReach charges very quickly and the battery lasts a very long time, at least twenty four hours with tracking set at one hour interval. I also had the neoprene case, a must-have on a boat. Forget trying to read the screen on a sunny day. It does however pair with your phone or tablet for easier message typing.

I first thought Delorme would provide me with a phone number attached to the device for texting. Unfortunately it wasn’t so. When texting contacts, the number they see as the inReach sender isn’t always the same. The only way to keep a conversation going is to keep the thread open and keep replying to it. This in itself isn’t a problem, but it is for those wanting to message me first. They must go to my map page and click on the message icon. It would be fine if it wasn’t the only way to do so. Your map can be set to private, which sets your device to private by default. The problem is when you want your map to be public and prevent strangers from texting you at the same time. Delorme should have a separate messaging page from the map, which could be set to private or public. The best solution of course would be a dedicated phone number.

Another issue I have encountered is the unreliability of the GPS. When it works, it works great. Sometimes however it seems to fail to initialize, and you could be thinking that you are sending position reports when you are not. One better check that the GPS has started before heading out. I hope a future firmware update will fix the problem. They probably used the cheapest GPS chip they could get their hands on. A Spot user mentioned the same issue, once almost triggering a Coast Guards search because a concerned friend did not see position reports for a while.

Fortunately I did not have to trigger an emergency as I lay on my bunk for three days on the Little Bahama Bank, sick as a dog. It was comforting to know I had the option. Few ships sailed by, and contacting any of them via VHF wasn’t guaranteed.

I wish the inReach had been on board when Dagny drifted off. While the device isn’t meant for tracking assets, it can be used in such a way. I would never again leave a boat unattended without some sort of tracking device or AIS transmitter. Unfortunately I had taken the inReach with me to recharge it.

All in all, the Delorme SE gets my thumbs up.

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Living Aboard a Small Sailboat is Actually Pretty Nice.

It has been only six days mind you, but I am settling into a nice routine. Not that living aboard is something I particularly want to do on a boat that small. I missed a nice weather window today and tomorrow because of a stuck valve on my diesel inboard. Yep, I have identified the problem, but that doesn’t necessarily help me. WD-40 and a bout of slight violence with a screwdriver handle didn’t do any good. Better have a profe$$ional check it out. Bottom line is, it is about traveling, discovering new lands and cultures… I am still at the dock, stuck for lack of finances and mechanical knowledge. One thing I have learned is that anything related to boats moves slowly. You just can’t be in a hurry. I haven’t been contemplating my navel all week though, today was very productive…

Yesterday a guy a couple slips down had a cooler stolen from his boat. I wouldn’t have left a $400 cooler in an open boat (they make $400 coolers?!), but I understand why he might have felt it was safe. My boat has been floating here for a year and a half, the last month with thousands of dollars in equipment, unlocked. The area is (was) supposedly extremely safe. This prompted me to install a lock I had purchased to secure the companionway hatch. Yes, the famous bubble hatch. The forward hatch was another problem. I solved this one with a simple bolt through and a cross bar on the inside; primitive but effective. Now I can lock the boat when away or lock myself inside if need be. It’s not crowbar-proof but it would give someone so equipped a run for their money.

Companionway Hatch Lock

Companionway Hatch Lock

Forward Hatch Crossbar

Forward Hatch Crossbar

Next, I looked at my Optimus two-burner kerosene stove and decided that it was time… Two holes, nuts and bolts later it was hanging in its new home, but leaning backwards… Weird… The stove is supposed to swing the way the boat is leaning so you can cook while sailing. No way a pot is going to stay on at that angle, yet the gimball axes are aligned with the burners. Then I noticed notches at the bottom on each sides. I immediately thought “counter weights!” You can adjust them as the tank empties… Not great, but it will work. A couple fishing weights should do fine. One burner seems to be clogged, one more thing to fix. I think I will buy new burners some time in the future. The Optimus is for serious cooking, not for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. I use a tiny alcohol stove for that. It barely burns more alcohol than required to preheat the kerosene burners, so why bother. Kerosene does smell a bit too. I also haven’t yet gotten a thin sheet of stainless steel to protect the ceiling. See my stove test video, you’ll understand…

Optimus Kerosene Pressure Stove

Optimus Kerosene Pressure Stove

While I had the drill out, boy do I enjoy my solar panels and inverter, I decided to install the fire extinguishers on the bow bulkhead and one near the engine. I am more concerned about the Optimus throwing a tantrum than anything else…

Fire Extinguisher

Fire Extinguisher

I usually get up early, around eight. There is a nice mom-and-pop breakfast place within walking distance. Actually, everything here is within walking distance, including bars, restaurants, post office, boat gear store and supermarket. Wifi is available most places. I use a USB powered special antenna (2W), which seems to work fine, but I prefer to connect at the breakfast place or the restaurant. I have learned to recharge my devices while the sun shines on the solar panels. Doing so at night drains the battery too fast.

I skip lunch, even dinner sometimes, though the restaurant across the water has sushi rolls for $8, and the one behind it has crab cakes, my favorite! Daytime is for boat work, while I can see. Not having a shower on board isn’t so bad since I noticed the hotel nearby has a pool and the showers door is often unlocked. So yes, I sneaked in! I have rented a room there a couple times so I don’t feel too guilty about it. There is another option at $30 per month, but hopefully I won’t be here that long.

The only thing missing are of course are my friends. It has been different since the coffee shop closed, but that didn’t prevent seeing my closest friends and there was also the daily sunset gathering, until now. I don’t know anyone here. So far it hasn’t hit me fully yet, but I know once I leave the Florida coast behind, it will…

Tomorrow I am installing a radio antenna on the stern and running a couple antenna cables back to the cabin. I also need to scrub the deck, but better do that when the sun starts going down. I still have a bit more cleaning to do and put a few things away, where, I don’t know. The boat is really full. By the way I did take a video of my setup, sort of a tour of Dagny, deck and cabin. There has been progress since then, but you’ll get an idea of the size of my living space, what’s left of it. I just edited the file and uploaded it on Youtube. I tried Kdenlive on Linux but it crashes all the time and really isn’t user friendly. Power Director 14 on Windows works great for me, even though I hate Windows. I could only output 480p with the trial version.

The wind vane, this mysterious device that steers the boat using wind power needs to be set-up. Fortunately I have the manual. I know, guys aren’t supposed to do that, but It’s my ass out there, excuse my French…

The next weather window I think probably won’t happen until the 22nd or later. I really wanted to leave much earlier. My engine absolutely needs to be fixed by then, and I want to leave with at least $300 in my pocket, $150 for the Bahamas entry fee. I’ll be working online throughout my trip, so no need to have a big cruising kitty before departure. I have Search & Rescue insurance through Delorme, but will add medical evacuation insurance to that as soon as I can. My forward storage lockers have food and water for forty five days. It’s time to go, I am growing a bit frustrated…

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One Week Before Moving.

Things have been a bit hectic around here trying to get ready to move. I know I won’t be 100% ready but close enough. My sail-away party Friday night was a success. It was very nice to see old friends I hadn’t seen in years, and newer ones, to say goodbye. Thanks again to all who attended! As a bonus I got enough canned food to last me a few weeks! Not to mention a few other useful items.

Packing has been a horrendous task, or rather, deciding what to let go. I sold everything I could a while ago. It’s unbelievable the amount of items we pile-up as time goes by. If you ever plan on doing the same, start getting rid of stuff early. The last few bags and plastic boxes will have to find a spot on Dagny, but she is already fully loaded. Oh well, I didn’t think the first batch would fit either, so maybe there is hope.

I am still hoping to buy a foul weather jacket, SSB Ham radio and new shoes before leaving, but finances are very tight. I also need a spare bilge pump and a couple fenders. There is the $150 Bahamas entry fee to consider, as well as a full tank of diesel. I sure hope I can get my engine to start without hiring a mechanic. Maybe this blog should be named “Cruising On The Cheap.”

All the heavy projects on Dagny are finished. There are a few tasks left, better done before leaving:

  • Fix the engine; priority #1!
  • Install the companionway and forward hatch locks.
  • Install a 20m band antenna (MFJ-1620T).
  • Install red and green navigation lights on deck.
  • Touch up paint inside the cabin.
  • Troubleshoot my marine SSB antenna tuner.
  • Find out how the wind vane works and set it up.
  • Finish the self-tacking jib setup.

These tasks shouldn’t take more than three days but I now know better than to make time estimates when boats are involved.

My Delorme inReach was activated a couple days ago and works fine. Well, it did after I updated the firmware, which was pretty easy. The only issue I have with it is that the device doesn’t have its own phone number for texting, so you must leave the thread open to keep a conversation going. Your contacts must initiate a conversation by sending a message from the map or reply to an existing thread. Not ideal, but it works. The Earthmate Android and iPhone apps work fine on my iPhone and Acer tablet.

Reading about issues with Navionics charts in the Bahamas, I decided to switch to Jeppesen Plan2Nav CMap. The charts are cheaper and supposedly more accurate. I like the Android app, which integrates Active Captain. For weather, I installed Weather4D, but there seems to be a bit of a learning curve. Sailgrib is great for wind predictions. For an anchor alarm I got SailsafePro, but Plan2Nav I think has that feature.

Assuming everyting works, I will keep an eye on the weather for the perfect window. The winds have to be from the South or South-West. Any nothern component creates steep waves in the Gulfstream, to be avoided like the plague, or so I heard. The passage isn’t even an overnight crossing, so it will be a nice shakedown cruise. I might go for a Little Grand Cay check-in, otherwise I would have to first sail South to Lake Worth to make a West-End landing, which I don’t really want to bother doing. I know the Stream will be pushing me North and I will have to account for the drift. But hey, I’ve done that plenty of times flying airplanes, and things happen much faster at 120Kts. The last time I went to the Bahamas from Florida was flying a Grumman Tiger from Sarasota To Green Turtle Cay. It took but three hours, only ten or fifteen minutes out of sight of land. This time it will be a while longer…

Stay tuned for an update after I settle down on board, with a video and maybe even my first podcast.

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Update And Navigation.

In case anyone is wondering how things are going here is an update. Tomorrow my friend Patrick and I are getting a Uhaul van to get my stuff from storage. Some of it will come along on the boat and the rest will have to be disposed of or sold. That afternoon I will take everything I intend to bring along and load up the van. Tuesday morning we will head to Dagny, unload everything on the dock and load her up. I expect it will take quite some time. The locks need to be installed so that I can sleep soundly here at home with all my possessions aboard.

There should be time to look at the engine and see if anything is preventing a valve from closing. I am no mechanic, but I need to learn more about diesels and there is no better way than working on one for that. If I fail it will be time to call in a specialist.

My rudder is finished, still drying, but otherwise ready to go.

Thinking about navigation… I have a few GPS units. One is built-in my Standard Horizon (Yaesu) GX2200 VHF radio. It doesn’t display a chart of course but you do get your latitude/longitude on the screen. I bought a USB GPS for my laptop, which is running OpenCPN. My Delorme inReach satellite gizmo also has a GPS, no map display. Then there is my iPhone with the Navionics app. Using a laptop in my exposed cockpit doesn’t seem like the greatest idea. I thought about the iPhone, but my vision up close isn’t what it used to be, and the screen is rather tiny. The logical solution was an iPad. Unfortunately I really can’t afford one. Looking at Android tablet choices, after discarding many no-name cheap Chinese models (loaded with spyware), I came across the Acer Iconia A-830 for a mere $100 on Ebay. Navionics requires Android 4.0, the Iconia comes loaded with 4.1 so I should be good.

Acer Iconia A1-830 with Navionics

Acer Iconia A1-830 with Navionics

The great thing is that it has a built-in GPS. I also ordered a couple waterproof tablet bags from Hong-Kong for that model. Now I will be able to see where I am going! Not to mention that I also can use the tablet as, well, a tablet! I might even get a refurbished one (seen at $70) as a backup. Getting a sextant and learning celestial navigation is still on my list, but it can wait a bit. I also have a Plastimo Compass in a nice wooden box, which I can bring to the cockpit or inside and keep an eye on my heading.
GX2200 Radio Installed

GX2200 Radio Installed

I am still collecting the numerous items still needed for such an adventure; the biggest one will be an SSB Ham radio. It seems like my Icom AT-120 tuner isn’t working anymore, so that will have to be addressed. At some point I will have to leave, ready or not. I do not expect to have everything I need or finish all the maintenance projects on my list. Dreams have been lost by delaying departure too long hoping everything to be perfect; is never is.

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Fiorentino Sea Anchor Delivered.

Christmas was a bit early today with the delivery of my 6ft diameter Fiorentino Sea Anchor. I was surprised by the small size of the box. The sea anchor comes with a nice green bag, which was to be expected given the $400 price tag. I have to say that it does look very sturdy. The hardware is massive, with a large swivel, which I suspect to be the same for all models. The fabric is nice and thick. The nylon lines go all the way around the canopy. It does look small for my boat, but that is what Fiorentino recommends for a 10,000Lbs displacement vessel; the Morris Frances 26 weighs 7,900Lbs. There are a couple weights sewed-in the bottom perimeter of the canopy to prevent it from spinning too much.

Fiorentino Sea Anchor

Fiorentino Sea Anchor


Fiorentino Hardware

Fiorentino Hardware

I will use the anchor with a 10ft 1/4″ chain leader and a float on a 30ft line attached to the rode side of the swivel. 1/2″ nylon is what is recommended for the anchor rode, which does seem thin, but who am I to contradict the manufacturer, and my wallet.. 300ft would be a minimum. I can either use my backup anchor rode or buy a new 300 or 400ft spool, we’ll see..

Tomorrow I am getting my CNC-cut hatch parts, and will build it over the week-end. I can see a road trip in my near future!

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