Saturday, May 28, 2016

Where do you go when it rains?

... or something we were asked just last week: "you stay on the boat all night?"  You kind of expect these questions from non-sailors, they only know fishing boats or maybe cruise liners. Because they have not thought about it, they really have no idea what life on a sailboat might be like.

We expect more from fellow cruisers though. We recently realized that the only fossil fuels we have personally used over the last seven months have been about 25 lbs of propane for the stove and maybe one gallon of diesel maneuvering with the ship's engine.

So we announced that to fellow cruisers at a beach pot luck. When they heard we had not run the engine or generator for so long their response was "We have read about people like you with no refrigeration and only a few lights. We could never live that simply".

But we do not live simply. We have used our Torqeedo 3 HP electric outboard daily getting back and forth to beach, we have a built-in fridge with Adler Barbour large vertical freezer, we have ice in our drinks and usually watch 3-4 hours of TV every evening, we make all our own fresh water with a 12V VMT NF-200 water maker, and we leave our LED anchor light on continuously. Oh, and we usually have warm if not hot water for washing dishes and showers and we also keep the phones and laptops charged up.

Some people would say we have taken our shore home life with us . . . and they would be at least partly correct. It is nice that the solar panels and wind generator are set-and-forget methods of maintaining our life style but it did take some thought on systems and implementation and no small initial monetary outlay. For example our 480 watts of solar panels ($500) are controlled by an MPPT control box ($550) that diverts excess afternoon solar power to a 12V/120V dual element water heater element ($100). When we have excess power, why waste it? We use a 1500 watt Prosine inverter ($1100) to supply clean AC power to all but cell phone chargers.

We know people can live extremely well with little or no electrical power. We are not in that group tho.  It did take us a while to realize we could live without ice cream in the drawer freezer or keeping 12 bottles of drinks in the upright refrigerator. By simplifying only a little though, we gained hugely from not having to listen to the generator every evening and especially not having to make frequent trips to the gas station.

Most of the cruisers we were around could not fathom our ability to live without a generator or running the main engine an hour in the morning and evening. I think now they are rethinking their systems.

Our no-interaction-required lifestyle changed this week though. Our Torqeedo outboard started acting strangely. I think fishing line that wrapped around the prop compromised the integrity of the seal around the motor shaft, letting seawater in. We had to mount the old 15 hp Mercury outboard on the dinghy so we will be back to gas station runs for a while.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pressing Pause

We have just passed the three year mark for cruising. What we have seen and experienced has been fantastic and never to be forgotten, but we are now ready for a bit of change - like trying land-based living for a while.

For me (Mike) cruising at the not yet ripe age of 65 seems to have turned into endless body aches and problems that just were not an issue in my 40's.  The 5-year cruise in my 40's included scampers up hills with full provisioning backpack, and sitting on the sea bottom for 2 minutes at a time waiting for lunch to swim past.  Now I have maybe 20 seconds underwater time before having to broach and blow like a whale.  And hills? We are currently anchored in Brewer's Bay St. Thomas, USVI.  Between the beach where we land the dinghy and the parking lot where we get picked up by a bus to town is a hill that cruisers have named Mount Everest.  It is a mere 85 feet tall but leaves me huffing and puffing. And that is before we add cat litter, gin, and diet Coke.  Actually, now that I think about it, that would be the same as lugging all our groceries up stairs to an eighth floor apartment...
The 85 foot Mount Everest

Cate misses her peeps (friends and family) and especially the feeling of fulfillment she gets from teaching.  She has been going back one week a month since the first of the year to get her consulting business on track and coordinate a place for us to migrate.  She just rented us a cute cottage in Gulfport, Fl.  It is not big (ad says 2 bedroom NO king beds!) but after a boat, it should work great for us.

Two trips back Cate bought a sweet 2013 Prius Plug-In with less than 20,000 miles.  I know gas prices are lower than they have been in decades, but fossil fuels are still a limited resource and you know prices will only go back up from here.  Anyway, low gas prices means that economical hybrids like the Prius are selling very cheaply.  And oddly enough, used Plug-In models generally sell for less than the non-Plug-In variety.  Go figure!  It has exactly the same 50 mpg gas engine fuel economy, many options for the non-Plug-In are standard (backup camera, nav system, etc.) and the Plug-In has a 4kw battery that gives it 12 miles on an electric charge.  What's not to like?  And the cottage we are moving to has off street parking where we can plug it in!
Cate's new ride - 2013 Prius Plug-In

We intend to leave Horizon with a caretaker in Puerto Rico for this coming hurricane season.  She will be close to the biggest hurricane hole in the Caribbean and so should be safe from just about anything.

Our decision to leave her in the water and in Puerto Rico is that we wanted the option to flee back to her quickly if we need the respite from civilian life.  And when we come back, the fantastic cruising grounds of the Virgin Islands are only 60 miles away.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nexus 5X and Google Fi Project: not ready for prime time

As those of you who read our Google+ posts (svhorizon) know, we were excited to pre-order two spanking new Nexus 5X phones using Google Project Fi phone plan. We are currently in the Caribbean and expect to continue to explore islands and do other world travel so the idea of a cell phone plan that gives unlimited talk and flat rate data access virtually world-wide for only a little more than we were paying for Straight Talk sounded great.

We got the phones, initiated the Google Fi plan and it worked fine in Saint Thomas USVI, Puerto Rico and the US. Then we traveled to Europe. The Fi plan documentation said we would have full coverage in Spain, where we were spending 10 days, and also Italy and France for our flight connections.

So Cate and I headed off on our adventure with two companions, one of which had a one year old Nexus 6, also on the Google Fi plan.

The first problems showed up in Rome when Cate's phone refused to get data even tho we all had 5 bars of signal. My identical phone worked fine and so did Frank's Nexus 6.

For the next 10 days through Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid, neither Cate's phone nor mine got data more than a couple hours a day. We almost always had 4 or 5 signal bars though. Of course Frank with his Nexus 6 had full LTE data access the entire trip. I got by using the excellent android mapping app that does not require data access.

On the third day we called Google Fi technical support. It was a rather humorous call since we were on WiFi which makes for difficult conversations at the best of times. We finally got our problem across and Google opened a problem ticket. A couple days later we got email asking us to try specific things to help them diagnose the problem. With reliable data only on WiFi tho, it was really difficult to respond in a timely basis. Especially when they ask things like "please list an exact street address". Our answer would be "all of Barcelona and Seville".

Anyway, we were moving from city to city faster than Google support could keep up and there was no resolution before we returned to the US.

I have no idea (and neither does Google) why a year old Nexus 6 would have perfect data access while our brand new Nexus 5X phones had so much trouble. If the Google Fi Project gets the bugs worked out, it will be an excellent plan for those of us who spend more time outside the US than inside.