September 25, 2023

It's you, not your anchor

We all have a tendency to blame the hammer when we hit our thumbs. It's the same with anchors. You sail into a beautiful but crowded harbor, drop the hook while looking forward to celebrating with an evening cocktail, only to find the darn thing isn't holding and instead of that Marguerita you get to look forward to pulling on a mucky chain. Sometimes this process is repeated several times until something goes right and you have a solid bite, or you give up and look for a mooring.

Since I've been anchoring cruising boats for close to half a century I've had many moments of reflection around this problem. Perusing several online cruising forums, I am not alone in pondering why an anchor works sometimes and not others.

Yes, there are elements of luck at play here. For example, we once dropped our hook into a deep hole in the middle of Annapolis Harbor and sat like on a heavy mooring while boats dragged all around us in some severe squalls. On the other side of the coin, we once were dragging our anchor merrily through Newport harbor in a modest bit of wind. When we pulled it up the anchor was firmly wedged in a lobster trap that was not generating much holding power.

Then there are bottom types that are not conducive to a good night's sleep, like the jelly like ooze found up creeks in the Chesapeake. No matter how much you back down on your anchor it just drags through the ooze. Or, the runway like bottom we encountered when anchored off of Tulum in Mexico. I spent an hour walking anchors around on the bottom trying to stick each point into any tiny indentation in the bottom. We spent a restless night hanging on three anchors and as much chain as I dared put out, and it was mostly just the weight holding us in place.

But, more often than not what I see is abundant evidence that we are actually doing something wrong when the anchor doesn't hold. I'm not talking about hurricane conditions. Most of the dragging I have observed has been during normal blows, like thunderstorms, frontal passages, or sometimes just a freshening breeze.

The first piece of evidence for our fallible nature has been observed on my own boat more than once. We drop the hook, it doesn't hold, then we redrop more carefully and all is good through whatever winds come along.

The second piece of evidence is observing this exact same thing on many hundreds of boats on many more nights all around me. Two boats come in to anchor. They both have the same anchor. One holds, the other doesn't. 

The third piece of evidence is observing how people drop their hooks, including on my own boat. When we first got our Mantus we eagerly dropped it in one of our favorite spots where I know the bottom like I do my own. We proceeded to drag that thing all over the place as we backed down. My first thought was, "So much for these so-called "New-Gen" anchors!" But, after pulling the anchor up it was obviously fouled with our own chain wrapped around one of the ears supporting the hoop. Thinking back to the anchor drop we had dumped a bunch of chain way too fast and right on top of the anchor because I had left the anchor brake way too loose. We proceeded to back down and the pile of chain just wrapped up the anchor.

Other times when we have dragged our initial set I have rechecked my scope and realized that I didn't have enough chain out. This is easy to do in a crowded harbor where you are trying to fit in between other boats already at anchor. Another bad move is to try and anchor in a known weedy area, only to fail to hold while cursing the anchor that comes up with a giant ball of grass.

The big problems I see regularly were listed in the previous post here, along with my prescription for doing it right. 

My final piece of evidence for this problem is mostly in the past when we anchored everywhere from Labrador to the Caribbean without the benefit of New-Gen anchors, all-chain rode, windlasses, or scientific anchor testing. We used steel Danforths, CQRs, Bruces, and the occasional fisherman pattern anchor, and we did it successfully in the same places we are struggling with anchors today that have been tested to provide much greater holding power. Yes, the New-Gen anchors set easier and better, and have greater holding power, but it is really overkill in most situations. I've rode out full gales on both generations of anchors in the same location. I see people today doing the same who haven't bothered to change to a New-Gen anchor for some reason. Just the other day I was anchored close to a group that included CQRs, a Bruce, a Spade, a Danforth and some Rocnas. It was the Rocnas that dragged for some reason.

Using these new wonderful tools has spoiled us to the point we expect them to just work no matter what we do. Dump them over the side on all-chain rodes, then break out of the cocktails! Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Before blaming your tools make sure you are using them properly!

See the previous post.

August 29, 2023

Cuttyhunk anchoring thoughts

This summer we spent a significant amount of time anchored in Cuttyhunk Pond, one of our favorite spots. We've been anchoring there for more than 40 years so I know it very well. The anchorage in the Pond has a reputation for being crowded and with poor holding, but we have found out over many years there is almost always room for one more boat! 

The reputation for poor holding is well-deserved if you drop the hook in the wrong part of the Pond. Many areas are very grassy, to the point that some people can never get an anchor to hold. However, the main portion of the dredged basin, northeast of the mooring field, has good holding in mostly mud. We've rode out gales there and numerous thunderstorm gusts.

This post will not go into all the nuances of anchoring in Cuttyhunk, but instead is a collection of random thoughts collected while observing numerous boats anchoring in all weather. For further thoughts on Cuttyhunk anchoring just use the search function.

1. Lots of boats don't even consider anchoring in Cuttyhunk Pond. I see them every day circling around the mooring field searching for an available mooring. If the search fails they often head outside to search for a rental mooring in the outer anchorage. Many, if not most, of these boats sports a decent looking anchor on the bow that presumably is connected to a decent anchor rode, but they just don't want to use the gear. Is this because they perceive the anchorage as too crowded? Sometimes, but on other days I have observed this same behavior when I am the only boat at anchor. In our more than 40 years of visiting Cuttyhunk the only time I used a rental mooring is during Hurricane Bob, but I backed it up with multiple anchors on long rodes. Apparently anchoring is becoming something that people don't want to do.

2. I've carefully observed hundreds of other boats pulling or dropping anchors before and after dragging in a blow, and I can make the following observations about anchors. Without a doubt the new-gen anchors with rollbars perform the best and are least likely to drag. We've been using a Mantus since they first came out and it has never failed us. Danforth-type anchors and Fortresses seem to mostly be used by power boats these days, but once in awhile I see a sailboat using one. If they get it dug in and back down hard, no problem. But, sudden wind shifts often dislodge the Danforth-types. There are lots of CQR and Delta anchors still in use, and in calm weather they seem fine. Many survive big blows, but I have also seen a lot of draggers using them. If I see a Bruce or claw-type anchor going down I become very wary of that boat--lots of draggers use those. Various other anchors seem to have mixed performance. The other night a traditional schooner came in, casually threw a Spade anchor on all-nylon rode over the side, anchored in a bad spot close to the moorings, and then proceeded to ride out several blows that sent other boats dragging. On the other hand, I have noticed more than once Spades being pulled up by dragging boats, and inevitably the entire scoop is one big ball of mud and weeds.

3. The #1 problem I see every day is the use of too little anchor rode. Boats come in, let out some chain and sometimes line, then start to back down hard on what is obviously too short a scope--you can tell by the angle the rode makes as the boat slides backwards. Other times, they don't bother to back down at all. Even if you feel it is too crowded to lie to traditional (and safe) 5:1 scope I find that most anchors require at least that much to set properly. Once you've set the anchor hard with the engine, and there is no perceptible dragging, then you can shorten up to as little as 3:1 if you are using an all-chain rode. Just be prepared to let out more if the wind picks up, which it often does at 2am!

4. The #2 problem is dropping the hook in one of the weedy areas outside of the dredged square on the chart. This is done mostly by smaller power craft, but sometimes tried by big cruising cats too. It often takes multiple tries to dig down through the weed in those spots, and with each try the anchor comes up completely fouled with weed. People with power windlasses controlled from the cockpit sometimes have no idea why their anchor is dragging after multiple tries. Check your anchor visually if for some reason it doesn't hold! We have occasionally found upon inspection that we somehow fouled our own anchor with our anchor chain after spinning around and around it in light winds.

5. This last point has to do with these light winds likely to be encountered during lazy summer sailing. Sure, your anchor has been holding great on short scope for a few days, but consider resetting it if a big blow is predicted. This is particularly important if a dramatic wind shift will occur. An anchor that held well in light air from the southwest may not be well positioned to pivot and re-dig in when the 2am blast comes in from the northeast. You may also want to consider putting out a second anchor in these situations, but you have to be careful in a crowded anchorage not to limit your swinging in such a way that other boats on one anchor will swing into you. If when anchored in the prevailing wind your stern is close to the shallows, it is probably safe to consider putting out a second anchor on those shallows. When the wind swings around to come from the direction of the shallows you will stay in place while everyone else on single anchors moves away from you.

July 26, 2023

Juggling All the Variables

Certain harbors are gathering places for sailors headed offshore. Back in the good old days I met a lot of fellow cruisers while arguing about the weather as we holed up waiting for a weather window to jump offshore. The sources of information were few — pretty much everyone shared the same data. Here in the USA the main sources were NOAA Coastal, Offshore, and High Seas text forecasts, gathered by weather fax, VHF and SSB radio. Sometimes we downloaded small-scale (large area) weather maps that gave us very general information on huge areas of ocean. And sometimes we just walked up to the weather station, as in Bermuda. 

Offshore, many of us didn’t get further updates, except possibly some scratchy voice forecasts via SSB radio. We usually sailed with three or four days of good predicted weather, after which we took what we got. Forget trying to predict the weather in segments smaller than 100 miles. Ocean current predictions were just general averages.

There were a lot of little things we did to supplement forecasts. We would wait in harbor until the wind clocked around after a front. A thermometer would tell when we had reached the Gulf Stream. A change in swell patterns might tell of an approaching storm. A certain ocean color and a type of seaweed indicated you were in the Gulf Stream. Or, you could spot the stream miles off by the line of clouds and thunderstorms down the middle.

Sounds pretty primitive, but all of these seat-of-the-pants methods, in conjunction with historical weather and route information summarized on the pilot charts, worked quite well. Still, I would argue that choosing the right route in the right season remains the single best weather decision you can make.

Taking into consideration not only the wind, but the currents, the speed of your boat, your planned times of departure and arrival, can be confusing. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a general forecast for a large ocean segment, hundreds of miles on a side, and  a weather map with winds and currents for that patch? What if you could take into account other variables and automatically get a plan for best departure and arrival times, along with the route to take for the most comfortable passage?

There’s an app for that

The digital revolution has brought us an era where we not only have 10 to 14 days of coastal weather predictions served to us via the internet. Many voyagers continue to enjoy these benefits when offshore by utilizing weather apps, satellite internet connections, and high-resolution displays, from phones, laptops, dedicated chart plotters and large monitors. Resolution is such that you can download predictions for your patch of ocean, including ocean currents. The addition of near-real time ocean current information is a huge leap forward, and makes for a much speedier and more comfortable trip.

To read the rest of this article check out Ocean Navigator!

October 29, 2022

Get Out of the Marina!

The post mortems are coming in for Hurricane Ian, and from a boating perspective the lessons are clear. Get well out of the path, if at all possible, and secure your boat well away from others and on a mooring or anchors. The many scenes of wrecked marinas clogged with sunken boats perfectly illustrate the problem with relying on fixed docks. Very few marinas are designed to handle storm surges of 10-15 feet above normal high tides, and even if they are you are completely at the mercy of how well the boats around you are tied up. Once one goes the domino effect takes over.

However, a well-designed mooring and/or anchor setup can easily manage the storm surge if anticipated. Extra scope will be needed, along with extra lines and chafing gear, but I would much rather have my boat pointed into the wind and secured by the strongest cleats and lines from the bow. Pointing into the wind will vastly reduce the strain on everything.

Of course, this assumes you have a mooring or anchors with sufficient holding power. Typical mushroom anchor moorings or heavy blocks, as are frequently used, are not up to the task unless they are deeply buried in thick mud. With a sandy bottom, that is unlikely. Helical screw type moorings can provide the needed holding power, and these are available in places in Florida like Boot Key Harbor on Marathon in the Keys. By all accounts, the moorings there have held through hurricanes, with the weak link being the lines securing the boat. Usually, line failure is due to chafe onboard.

In major hurricanes it is wise to also put out your best anchors in support of your mooring. In Hurricane Bob we put out two Fortress anchors to help the two-ton mooring block we were on. The anchors were easy to set from the dinghy using long lengths of nylon line, and after the storm it took me most of the day to winch them out of the muddy bottom. Judging from how hard they were buried, both anchors provided significant holding power to the mooring rig. During the same storm many moorings were dragged ashore, in most cases due to insufficient scope added for the storm surge. However, many typical moorings are not well buried, undersized, and may not be in the best bottom for holding power. Unfortunately, harbor regulations often guarantee moorings are not well buried, due to frequent inspections that necessitate pulling the mooring completely out.

It is the topic of another post, but I have had complete success using large diameter PVC water tubing slid over mooring lines. Some reports indicate a possible problem with lines overheating and failing when encased in PVC, but I have not seen evidence of this after several hurricanes, a few tornadoes, and numerous gales. Other people have used and prefer sliding tubular nylon over your mooring/anchor lines. I too have tried this and it works well under ordinary storm conditions, though I believe the PVC provides the ultimate protection.

Another problem is how to best route the lines to your boat so that they contact as few points as possible to avoid chafe in the first place. Anchor rollers on bowsprits are vulnerable to being leveraged down or up and off. Plus, bobstays can act like hacksaws on your lines. Personally, I like multiple lines leading direct to deck-edge cleats or over smooth surfaces to cleats. Anchor rollers can work if very short and mostly on deck, and of course securely bolted down. Keep in mind that your boat's bow may be pitching down as well as up! In other words, don't depend on a downward pull on the line to keep it within an anchor roller. There must be something to prevent the line from being pulled up and out of the roller. On our boat I have also installed a bow eye near the waterline as an additional strong point.

It is a good idea to try to balance the strain by using multiple lines to the anchors and moorings, and then run lines from one cleat to another, if possible. In some cases, it might make sense to run lines back to mid-deck cleats or possibly the mast, if keel stepped.

Note I haven't mentioned the use of chain. It should not meet your deck under strain! In other words, make sure all chain is overboard with long lengths of nylon line leading back to the boat, or use long and very strong nylon snubber lines. Some friends once had their anchor chain jump the roller in a storm, and it began to saw down through the deck and hull as the boat pitched. The skipper was badly injured while trying to get the chain back into the roller.

So, how much wind can a good mooring/anchor setup take? During Bob, as described above, winds reached around 100mph with a storm surge of over 6 feet. Where we were only three boats broke free from their moorings: two were due to chafe and the third boat pulled the mooring straight up and floated with it to shore. Put out plenty of scope! Winds of 150mph with 10-15 feet of storm surge are another matter, but some moorings in Ft. Myers Beach did hold despite the vast damage there. I look forward to learning more about what happened to moored vessels there, in Punta Gorda, and in the Keys. I suspect that very few boats would have deck gear able to withstand the strain of Hurricane Ian winds, which is why running away is so important in the first place. But, if you can't escape the path, get out of the marina!

October 8, 2022

Hurricane Respect

A lot of people in Southwest Florida recently learned a hard lesson when Hurricane Ian slammed into the Punta Gorda/Sanibel/Fort Myers area with winds of 150mph and a storm surge that may have reached more than 10 feet in some areas. The cleanup is ongoing and the death toll is way past 100 and climbing.

Stories are beginning to emerge of intrepid and/or stupid boaters who survived the storm, or not, onboard. Most of the ones I have read conclude with an admission from the boater that it was a mistake to stay onboard and they had no intention of ever doing it again.

Along with these harrowing tales we are also starting to see many uninformed people blaming the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for its forecasts, which in reality were excellent as usual. Yes, the storm track moved slightly to the south and east in the last few days, and yes it didn't slam directly into Tampa Bay, but Fort Myers was always within the warning cone. Anyone checking official NHC information regularly should have been abundantly aware that even if the storm had tracked more to the north the Fort Myers area would have dangerous impacts.

Read the disclaimer on the warning cone page: Note: The cone contains the probable path of the storm center but does not show the size of the storm. Hazardous conditions can occur outside of the cone.

Even those who had not been paying attention until the last minute would have had 24 hours or more to prepare. In the case of boaters, that would have been enough time to move up the Caloosahatchie River into the Okeechobee Waterway. Once inside the Franklin lock you would have been protected from the worst of the storm surge. Even though extreme winds and flooding were experienced along the waterway, it was a much better place to be than exposed at Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral, or Punta Gorda.

Every cruising boater should be monitoring the National Hurricane Center at least daily during Hurricane Season!

But, cruising boaters shouldn't have been anywhere near Fort Myers in the first place! Read my old post: Get Out of the Box. And, despite the endless repetition of the recommendation to, "Follow the advice of local officials," every cruiser should be collecting their own information and making sound judgments for their own boat and situation.

I have written a lot about hurricanes in the past. Just type "hurricane" in the search box.

February 4, 2022

Winter on the Island

We've had some real snow this winter on the Island, and it is beautiful after it first falls. But, you have to get out and enjoy it because it soon melts. Having grown up in Upstate New York I am used to a winter that lasts all winter, but here in the Island, surrounded by the relatively warm ocean, the climate is much milder. Yes, we do get the occasional Nor'easter with plenty of wind and precipitation of one sort or another (usually another), but as they say with regard to New England, "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute."

February 3, 2022

Make Yourself a Round Peg

A never-old topic among liveaboard and fulltime cruisers is what to do about receiving mail, and along with that where to be "domiciled." The latter term is important and it differs from where you are a "resident" in important ways. Your domicile is where you consider your one and true home and where you intend on returning to after your travels.

I know, you don't intend on ever going back to land, but to exist in the real world of bureaucrats, tax collectors, and departments of motor vehicles you need to declare someplace on land as your domicile. I can just imagine some reading this grumbling about faceless bureaucrats and where they can shove their tax forms, but you simply can't fight this war and win. You will be pigeon-holed by the government even if they have to jam your square peg into a round hole against your will. I believe that most will be much happier in the long run if they round off their square corners in order to fit into the appropriate round holes unless you enjoy endlessly wrangling with bureaucrats, paying fines, and looking over your shoulder for the local sheriff.

By making your strange life as a fulltime cruiser look like anyone else's life when viewed from the office buildings in Washington, state capitols, and local government offices you will make your life much easier. Creating or maintaining a normal looking domicile is one key factor in doing this. Lots of mail forwarding services offer real street addresses that at first glance appear to offer the possibility of giving you something that looks like a real domicile, but they don't. The government and every financial service now requires you to prove your actual residential street address to access many services, like banking, driver's licenses, healthcare, etc. Almost everyone wants to have a driver's license, and in the USA the Real ID act means you must provide multiple proofs of a residential street address somewhere. In most cases they will not accept a commercial address like a UPS store, a mail forwarding company, or a Post Office box.

Since you will be on the move a lot you have no doubt thought about using a mail forwarding service. Many of these now offer mail scanning so you can review what has come in and decide what can be recycled, what needs to be forwarded, and maybe have a few things opened and scanned so you can simply download the mail without having to receive actual paper mail somehow. These services can be hugely helpful, but they mostly won't work to establish your domicile. 

The key word is "mostly." A few services used by fulltime RVers and cruisers have been able to convince officialdom that they are legitimate addresses for domicile. The major ones often provide street addresses in Texas, South Dakota, or Florida and they have many loyal users. One major service used by many sailors is St. Brendan's Isle, providing an address in Green Cove Springs, Florida. I've used them in the past and their service is excellent. Prepare to spend $15-$30 per month for most services. Personally, I would only choose one of these services that is reasonably close to a place I might actually want to visit or bring my boat to. That eliminates Texas and South Dakota for me. I don't want to have to fly to South Dakota just to sort out a driver's license problem!

One way to use these services is to simply have your mail forwarded there using the US Postal Service, but keep in mind that certain things may not be forwardable--often mailings from election boards, tax collectors, and motor vehicle bureaus. In other words, some of your most important snail mail won't get to you via forwarding.

But, the best way to be a round peg is to "simply" find a real street address in a location you want and use that for everything important. Unfortunately, "simply" is not so simple for many fulltime cruisers. This real street address needs to be one where it is safe to receive valuable mail, is checked frequently by someone, won't change, and is not too costly. Obviously, you need to find someone you trust to manage this for you.

What are your options? For many of us, a trusted relative or friend is the first place to look. Who in your family or circle of friends is reliable, unlikely to move, and also takes an interest in your travels and lifestyle so would be willing to support it by lending their address to be your domicile? For long periods of fulltime liveaboard cruising I was lucky enough to be able to use my mother's or father's address for this purpose. I actually paid my mother a regular monthly fee to do this in order to enhance the idea that this was an important arrangement and to somewhat compensate her for the time involved. People are less likely to balk at doing something that is their job. One beauty of this was that my address was a place I would actually visit from time to time, making trips to a motor vehicle bureau or other office easier to manage. I would keep this in mind if you decide to use a commercial mail forwarding service. Make it someplace you visit anyway, or can get to easily when needed. 

If a relative doesn't fit the bill, consider professionals you may use for other things. Possibly you have an accountant, or bookkeeper, or lawyer who takes an interest in your lifestyle and wouldn't mind receiving and occasionally opening and forwarding important mail for you. Be aware that you probably won't be able to use their business address as your residential address since automated systems will detect that--you need a real residential street address! But, someone like a bookkeeper is used to dealing with bureaucracy and government red tape that might be daunting for mom or dad.

An option that some cruisers use successfully is the street address of a marina where they dock or rent a mooring occasionally. Again, a business address may or may not be acceptable for some things like a driver's license, though I suspect you could convince some DMV offices to accept it if you brought a letter from the marina saying you liveaboard there. However, what if the marina sells, or the office manager changes, or maybe they just decide to stop accepting mail when you are on the other side of the world? I wouldn't use this option unless I had a good personal relationship with the people managing the marina. I've noticed piles of uncollected and unforwarded mail in many marinas.

Once you've found the reliable domicile address it is important to use it for every important piece of identifying mail or service: driver's license, U.S. Coast Guard Documentation, boat registration, car registration, insurance, taxes. When you're clearing into another country you want to have everything up-to-date, with matching addresses, and all looking totally ordinary so that nothing gets questioned. Having a regular street address that matches on all your documents helps. For example, I have seen cruisers have problems when the boats document doesn't match the hailing port on the stern or even sometimes the name on the boat. I myself have had problems with state taxes when the authorities assumed my hailing port meant my boat was located there, when in reality the boat had never been there.

This points out another reason you have to weigh all of your address options carefully. Some taxing jurisdictions (notably New York in my experience) are very aggressive at going after perceived tax cheats. Even though the Coast Guard doesn't require you to use a hailing port based on your home address it might make your life easier dealing with certain things like this. It is important to save things like marina receipts, haulout receipts, fuel receipts, etc. to prove where you have actually been if a taxing authority is claiming you owe. On the other hand, we have all seen hailing ports on transoms from places no boat has ever been because the area offers tax benefits. Again, this is a case of making yourself the round peg for the round holes that bureaucracy likes to see. For example, if your boat is actually based in Massachusetts a hailing port in Florida or Delaware might stick out like a sore thumb when the harbormaster is checking who is renting moorings. Certain ports of convenience, like Delaware hailing ports, are red flags that make you subject to even greater scrutiny from the tax man than you might deserve. Bottom line is to pay your taxes where they are due, and avoid the hassle and anxiety of trying to weasel your way out of them.

Sure, you can have non-critical mail sent someplace other than your domicile address, but you are probably better off just eliminating that mail if at all possible. Try to pair down what is sent to your domicile address to only the important stuff. However, no matter how hard you try, junk mail will end up going there eventually. This is another reason you need a trusted person who can review what is coming in and take appropriate action: credit card offers go in the trash or a pile for later forwarding, tax notices need an alert sent to you via email or other means, something like an actual credit card or bank card needs to be saved for when you are someplace you can receive actual snail mail safely.

Life on the water will be easier if you make yourself the round peg for the bureaucrats' round holes!

May 17, 2020

Working Remotely Onboard

Now that everyone has decamped from their cubicles to work from their homes they are beginning to get a taste of what it is like to be a liveaboard worker. Many of us who cruise don't get away from it all as much as we would like because we still have to work to fuel the cruising lifestyle. The good news is that we now live in an era where working remotely is easier and better than ever.

I have done a lot of remote, on-the-road work over the years, and today's Working From Home (WFH) folks don't know how good they have it. I can vividly remember getting a letter (old-school words typed out on piece of paper) forwarded to me in Puerto Rico after a long delay informing me that it was now time to create an index for a complicated book I had written. The process began by combing through the printed version of the manuscript and writing down important words on pieces of paper and index cards. We then had to record on the cards when these words appeared on a particular page. Eventually, I collected all these notes and manually typed them up and mailed them into the publisher.

That gives you just a small idea of what we used to have to deal with when living on a boat and working remotely. Luckily, today we have small and powerful computers onboard, along with Internet available in most harbors. I won't go into how to hook up to the Internet, which is a huge topic on its own, but I have learned a few key things that will help you keep and organize your digital data.

Mostly Cloudy

First, the cloud is your friend. Yes, it is possible to store everything locally on hard drives, USB sticks, and laptops, but don't do it! Of course, you may often be away from an Internet connection so it is important to use those local storage devices, but your ultimate goal is to become as independent from them as possible by uploading everything to the cloud whenever you can.

In my experience, computers die on boats. It is as simple as that. If it isn't physical inundation with salt water, it is the insidious salt air environment. Or the constant motion. Or the laptop flies across the cabin and hits the floor. Or it is stolen when you go to the Internet cafe. Or, or, or. In short, the marine environment is harsh, the boating environment is harsher, the waterfront environment is not much better, and why take the chance you'll lose everything?

Put it in the cloud and in the worst case scenario it will be inaccessible for awhile until you can find another computer, or reach the next Internet cafe, but it will be there waiting for you. Put everything there: photos, music, charts, email, files, whatever.

I read a story last year of someone who had to escape rising water during the Houston hurricane. He didn't have time to grab anything more than the clothes on his back. He was a freelance journalist, but he had stored everything with Google. He ended up sheltering in another state, but was able to purchase a new Chromebook and instantly get back to work from his hotel room. 

That exact scenario could happen to a boater displaced by a hurricane, or maybe your boat just sinks at anchor after catching fire, like happened to some of my friends. They were away diving at the time, and when they returned their boat and all their possessions were just gone. Luckily, someone had pulled their dog from the harbor. Store your digital life in the cloud.

Your Virtual Office

The foundation of this technique is to choose and use one of the online office systems. I recommend using either Google or Microsoft. Google offers free online office tools along with their excellent Gmail. They also offer a professional-grade alternative, called Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), which is very similar to the free stuff, but with one huge advantage--real customer service! Free Gmail and its office apps are great, but if something goes wrong you are on your own. There is no human customer service or help, except via forums that are not monitored by Google. You have to be 100% certain you store your password securely, utilize every alternative security method there is, record your one-time codes, be sure to keep and maintain a phone number, etc. Without these things it is just a matter of time before you lose access to your Gmail account, and then your only hope of getting back in is an automated process that is completely opaque. Many people lose their Gmail accounts!

Workspace's basic tier, at $6 a month, doesn't really gain you much functionality over regular Gmail, but it does give you that very valuable access to real human beings, via phone, email, and chat, that can possibly help you solve problems, and most importantly will work with you when you become locked out of your account.

Microsoft also offers free email and online office apps, and they cover the same bases as Google's: word processing, spreadsheets, presentations (PowerPoint), etc. Plus, they too have a professional grade version that recently underwent some name changes. The deal of the bunch is Microsoft 365 Business Basic at $5 per month with 50GB of email storage and a whopping 1TB of OneDrive file storage. That is one of the best deals going for online storage, even if you don't use any of the other business features. However, the one huge downside for the Office Online products is they aren't usable "offline," meaning when on the boat away from the Internet. If you need Microsoft Office, be sure to also have the desktop versions installed, which are not included with Business Basic. I know, I know, Microsoft makes it confusing.

Both Workspace and various tiers of Microsoft's business offerings provide the ability to utilize your own domain for email, which is very important for professional use. In fact, I recommend it for everybody. It's the best way to be able to create memorable, branded email addresses that you can keep for life. Read more about that here on this blog.

I personally use the free Gmail stuff and I am extremely careful about checking all the security settings, making sure my phone and alternate email address are up to date, and using two-factor authentication. The latter security feature, often abbreviated 2FA (or 2SV for Gmail), means that you not only need a password to get in, but also a code either sent to a cell phone, or created using an authenticator app, or in some cases you can use a separate hardware security key, like the ones made by Yubico. If you set this 2FA stuff up Google will create some one-time codes that will allow you to get back in when 2FA breaks down for some reason. Be sure to store those codes someplace really safe, like an online password manager. I would also write them down on a piece of paper that is stored with things like your passports. Most people would not know what to do with these odd looking codes, so the security danger of keeping them handy is minimal.

But, what about when you're offline, maybe offshore too? Both Google and Microsoft, and Apple too, offer ways to utilize their apps while you are offline, and only when you reconnect with the cloud will everything sync up. In Google's case, the offline versions of Gmail and Docs will automatically sync up with the cloud when you do get back online. I use a Google Pixelbook Chromebook for most of my freelance writing work, and I have found it is the easiest way to manage this process when I am often on the road, on the boat, or on assignment. Being on the boat is really no different than being at home in my office, because I use the same systems in both places, though with different equipment.

By the way, another huge advantage of using Google's online offerings is that you don't even need your own computer to get stuff done--use whatever is available hooked up to the Internet. I was on an island and needed to send something in for work, but there was no Internet cafe or wifi anywhere. Luckily, I knew someone who lived on the island and I was able to use one of his computers from his house to log into my Google account and quickly get some work done.

This is a big topic, and I will be back with more on how to set up your floating office!

March 25, 2020

A Harbor to Ride it Out

With the virus emergency getting worse each day we are beginning to read of communities, islands, regions, and states attempting to shut their borders to outsiders, and those of us who travel by boat know that we are almost always "from away." So, what does a longterm cruiser or liveaboard do during an emergency?

Obviously, if you liveaboard and are in your homeport, you should expect to be treated like a local and receive the same rights along with the same responsibilities. Sadly, this is not often the case in my experience. Liveaboards are considered close to homeless people by some, and if your boat has a hailing port from somewhere else you will be considered to be from there no matter how long you have been tied up in one place. I have purchased boats with various hailing ports, and without fail we are assumed to be from the location featured on the stern.

This can really hit home when you try to move about and your out-of-state driver's license doesn't cut it with the local police. Is your health insurance local to the state you are in? Where is your doctor located? Do you own a car with out-of-state plates? All of a sudden you find your clever parsing of state laws in order to avoid paying some tax or another might not have been the best idea. In short, if you plan on living aboard in one locality for long, make it your real home (your domicile) for tax purposes, and follow all the local regulations for drivers' licenses, car registration, etc.

Then there are the cruisers who are truly transient, moving from place to place, with no real fixed "homeport." Don't be surprised if you find yourself at the nasty end of pointed questions with regard to your hailing port or the flag you are flying. In times of crisis people become very tribal and rightly or wrongly defend their home turf. Most of us would do the same. Think of how you would feel if the positions were reversed--you're looking out from your waterside home and see a boat arriving with a hailing port known to be a hotbed of the virus. Your boat and you may not have been in your hailing port for months or years, but that is where you are assumed to be from. Ask anyone driving around the country with New York license plates what type of reception they are getting right now.

Port in a Storm

So where can a cruiser go when the world is shut down? One huge advantage we have is the ability to carry lots of longterm stores, water, and fuel. Cruising boats are perfect for self-isolation in many ways. The virus doesn't travel far, and if you are anchored out or on a mooring you are unlikely to have much contact with anyone carrying the virus.

In some ways, being on a long passage might be the ideal spot to be, personally, but eventually you have to find a port that will allow you in, and some may not. Avoid heading offshore for that reason. You won't know where you will be able to end your voyage safely, and you don't want to find yourself ordered to quarantine in some horrible commercial port.

Many of us have certain ports we have visited over and over again because we love them, and possibly have friends who live there. Those friends ashore could be your key to finding a safe port in a storm. With the local tribe hunkering down and trying to prevent an influx of outsiders you need that inside help. The close friend ashore might make a huge difference if you need assistance such as needing a car to get groceries or medicine. Also, those local friends will know others that you might need help from: the local mechanic, the police, the health clinic, the harbormaster.

However, often you will be far away from that favorite port with the friends ashore, so what should you look for in a safe harbor? The #1 feature, I believe, is to head to a port that is boat friendly. You want to be in a place used to seeing lots of cruisers coming and going from all around the country and the world. That type of harbor also has lots of local boaters who may themselves have been cruisers at one time or another. Those people ashore will know what you on your boat need, and chances are very good the local officials will know and understand what you are doing.

Ports in the USA that fit this description include Newport, Rhode Island, Annapolis, Maryland, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These places already have hundreds or thousands of boats tied up with hailing ports from everywhere, and chances are great that you and your boat will be able to instantly "fit in." In a place with lots of fellow boaters you will quickly become part of the local tribe. The customs officials will understand, the harbormaster will understand, the police will understand, and many local people will understand. You want to be in a place with robust services of all sorts, including transportation. You want a port where you could leave your boat indefinitely if you had to.

Choose a port that is on the mainland so there are good connections via road, train and air. Good transportation connections mean your purchases at the local supermarket won't be a burden on the system. Needed supplies should still be plentiful. You'll be able to purchase fuel for the boat, get water easily, find repair parts.

I have been lucky enough to live in some of these places, and I have visited them by boat many times. Yes, they are busy, and services are not always the cheapest, but there has always been an understanding that cruisers are welcome. Cruisers are part of the lifeblood of these major ports, and therefore you are appreciated for what you bring to the local economy.

Plus, they tend to be fairly large communities, with much more robust healthcare systems. That lovely, isolated island in Maine or the Bahamas may be a great place to get away from it all, but it probably has very limited medical capacity during normal times, if any. During a pandemic people from away will not be welcome when a single additional person burdening the healthcare system could mean life and death for someone who lives there year-round.

It may seem counterintuitive to some, but now is not the time to head to an off-the-beaten-path place. Those are the very places that are terrified of outsiders right now, and rightfully so, because each additional newcomer has the potential to bring the virus with them or to become a burden on local limited resources. 

This is a time to stick together and be in a place where all around you are other boaters just like you. You won't stick out, you will fit in.

February 1, 2020

A Year on the Island Part 2

Having mostly visited the island by boat previously, I had not explored many parts of the island away from the major harbors of Vineyard Haven and Edgartown. There is so much to see and do, if you love nature, that I still feel I have only scratched the surface after a year.

There are innumerable trails, short and longer, all over the island and only a short ferry ride away on Chappaquiddick. Many start off in a beautiful forest only to end up on a sandy or rocky beach. There is something very special about a hike that combines woods and water.

Some days, winter or summer, we just walk along one of the many gorgeous beaches. In the summer popular places will be swarming with bathers and sun worshipers, but in the winter you may be the only person on miles of beach. In any season you can eventually find your own quiet spot to just listen to the waves and wind, or to lie down and soak up some sun. There is no more relaxing exercise than walking on a beach.

Having tired of wandering off the beaten track it is always just a short drive or bike ride to one of the small towns. Each one has its own interesting businesses and restaurants, though many close in the winter. It's always a good idea to call ahead during the off season.

Those without cars can still explore almost every corner of the island using the excellent VTA buses. For such a small island the service is amazing! When I first moved here I lived car-free for about 6 months and really didn't miss much. The main difficulty was obtaining wine and beer, which are heavy to carry and only available in limited locations--none for sale except with a meal in Vineyard Haven! 

Before I had a car, I would just rent one when venturing off island. There is a convenient car rental reachable by shuttle bus at the ferry parking lot in Falmouth. Not having to make a reservation for your car means you can just walk onto any ferry, saving lots of hassle and money. During the summer car reservations are hard to come by, and many people book in January for July trips. I also have a motorcycle, which has the advantage (besides being fun to ride!) that you can almost always slip onto a ferry. Same with bicycles.

Of course, all of these ferry trips to escape to the mainland add up in cost, making for a substantial line item on many budgets. Since Sail MV is flat out in the summer, I rarely get off island during the peak travel times, but then in the fall, winter, and spring I have to time ferry trips around bad weather. Last October we couldn't get off the island for three days during a gale, and my son was on the verge of missing a flight when we finally did make it. Just one of the peculiarities of island life!

January 18, 2020

A Year on the Island Part 1

I've now lived and worked on Martha's Vineyard for a year, and here are some thoughts on island living.

I began my job as executive director of Sail Martha's Vineyard in January 2019. Finding a place to spend my first six months on the island was a hurdle due to higher prices than nonprofit salaries support, and lack of available rental housing. Due to its summer popularity there are tons of homes on island that are unoccupied most of the year, but most people don't rent for the "off season."

With the help of Sail MV's board of directors, I found a wonderful rental in Vineyard Haven that was right on the harbor and within walking distance of the office. I feel privileged to have been able to live there, despite the lack of insulation in the historic home and subsequently enormous propane bills.

The cost of heating was my first introduction to what I call the "island tax." Everything sold on an island must cross the water by ferry or plane, and that adds something to the bill. Unfortunately, some on the island add a further percentage due to the pervasive expectation that everything will be more expensive than just a few miles away on Cape Cod. Therefore some purchases are maybe only 10% more, while others are 50% more.

This leads to the favorite island technique of ordering needed stuff via Amazon and others that offer free delivery, even to the island! You would think that would be a total win until you end up waiting in a 30-minute line at the post office with all the other people collecting their stuff. Many addresses on the island do not have postal delivery, and many others are so obscure that expecting UPS or Fedex to get there is overly optimistic. Everyone, has both a PO Box and an alternate shipping location it seems. You often see boxes stacked up alongside a metal mailbox on a rural road. The mailbox is for some house off in the woods down a dirt road.

My particular street address is not even recognized by the power company. Instead, they have assigned me an unused address on another nearby road. My cellphone provider also refuses to recognize the address, despite it being the legal, town-recognized address for the building. It isn't recognized by UPS or Fedex either. Needless to say, it is hopeless having anything sent to the address--who knows where it would end up? So, my mail and any shipments go either to my PO Box in another town, or to my work address where UPS is able to find us! However, no mail can be delivered to the work address, so I often walk to the post office at lunch time. This is all "island normal." Luckily, the local RMV (the Massachusetts equivalent of the DMV) understands all this and is accommodating.

Another interesting thing about island life--no crime! Well almost nothing. When something does happen it becomes front page news on the two excellent island newspapers. However, the police forces are designed for the summer influx of tourists, so they are overstaffed with not much to do most of the year. Be careful not to speed on any of the deserted back roads or park your car someplace it shouldn't be or you may encounter one of the local police patiently waiting for something to do. However, they do it in a very friendly manner!

Those two excellent island newspapers mentioned above are treasures that most of the USA has lost. I subscribe to both, paper and digital, because they are really critical to knowing what is happening. Reporters are at every town meeting, and know everyone on the island. They both have experienced reporters that have been here long enough to know the territory well. It is a pleasure to read their daily email and online stories and to sit down with the weekly papers.

More to come!

November 10, 2018

Internet Bliss

While enjoying my usual evening libation in the cockpit, I often grab a cellphone or laptop to find out what is happening in the world, what messages may have come in that I can ignore, and whether or not thunderstorms are likely to wake us at the usual 2 a.m. With the wonders of Wi-Fi and cellular phone service, these joys/chores of modern life have become necessities for most cruisers, and there are many ways to achieve the state of “connected” bliss on board.

For many boaters, regular cellphones and Wi-Fi-enabled laptops (and other devices) provide plenty of connectivity when close to shore and in marinas. While coastal cruising from Maine to Florida, I am frequently within good cellphone coverage — even over to the Bahamas. Yes, there are big gaps at times, but I can survive for a few hours without checking Twitter. Almost every marina has Wi-Fi, and if they don’t, there is bound to be an Internet cafe or other public Wi-Fi nearby. I’ve run into Wi-Fi in the weirdest places far off the beaten track, like on a cay in the Bahamas with no regular phone service — but it had satellite Internet and TV!

However, many others feel the need for stronger data connections and will utilize marine Wi-Fi and cellular receivers that can feed an onboard Wi-Fi router. This can mean the difference between enjoying a quiet night of Facebooking while anchored securely in the middle of the harbor vs. schlepping a laptop ashore in search of a signal. However, the days of “stealing” free Wi-Fi from unsuspecting shoreside homeowners and businesses with unsecured networks is largely over. Though it is still possible to be a data thief, you can’t count on it for reliable service.

Obtaining a legitimate data connection that can supply the speeds and reliability you need means a combination of Wi-Fi and cellular phone data when coastal cruising. In some harbors, there are public Wi-Fi signals that reach out over the harbor, and in others you may be able to get permission and/or pay a fee to a nearby marina. But, Wi-Fi is limited in range and there are many security concerns. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi is relatively  hackable and you should read up on how to secure your data connections, possibly by using a VPN.

Typical home Wi-Fi routers have about a 150-foot range indoors and possibly up to 300 feet outdoors, depending on what’s between you and the router. Marine Wi-Fi receivers with large antennas that can be mounted on a high point above deck obstructions will receive at greater range.

With a dedicated marine Wi-Fi receiver, you can expect much improved performance over any regular Wi-Fi receiver in a portable device, however coverage and range in the real world will be highly variable. I have seen brochures for marine receivers that claim “up to seven-mile range,” and some claim to reach up to 12 miles offshore, which is meaningless since a lot depends on the originating source. If you just need a strong signal on your home mooring or in a marina and know what networks you want to connect to, a marine Wi-Fi receiver may be a great solution for you.

While cruising in unfamiliar waters, you will have the problem of sorting through all the available Wi-Fi networks to find the ones that allow you to connect and provide the service you need. That problem is made more difficult by all the other boats in the harbor broadcasting their own wireless networks. The other night, I was located well offshore in a harbor on a small island that I know has only one public Wi-Fi network, yet a quick look at my phone showed many of the boats around me were broadcasting signals that were much stronger than the public Wi-Fi service in my location. I didn’t try, but I assumed that most of those other boats had their networks properly password protected! I’ve used the public service before and know that it is expensive, slow and unreliable. The best Wi-Fi receiver won’t be able to solve that problem for you.

Cell your soul
The most reliable option, at least within the U.S., is receiving your data via a cellular phone network. Cell signals offer much greater range that can extend many miles offshore. I have found that phone company coverage maps often underestimate coverage on the water, since they probably do little testing out there. Ordinary mobile phones are often quite effective within a mile or two of much of the U.S. East Coast. Again, there are significant gaps in coverage, depending on your carrier of choice, but in general you will find a good cell signal more often than you will find good Wi-Fi, particularly when underway. Hopping from one Wi-Fi network to another is a study in frustration, but maintaining a decent cellular signal all day long is a regular occurrence for boaters in many parts of the country. In other areas of the world, your service and choices may vary greatly.

Security is much better on the cellular networks than it is on Wi-Fi, and I have also found that it is much more reliable during inclement weather. When the power goes out ashore, most of the Wi-Fi networks go down too, but usually the cell service stays up and running. This can be a tremendous safety factor during hurricanes and lesser storms, when communications may be critical. At the very least, it is great to be able to call home or send an email to let everyone know you have weathered the storm. It is also great when you need to find parts, contact your insurance company or transfer some funds when all of the ATM machines ashore go dark.

All the major mobile carriers offer unlimited data plans, as do many prepaid carriers. Data-only plans are available too, but they may not be a better deal than a traditional phone plan. Unfortunately, the word “unlimited” doesn’t really mean limitless amounts of high-speed data, so read the fine print. However, for many of us, an unlimited cellular plan is cost effective and provides the greatest real-world data coverage.

For some boaters, a good option is to combine Wi-Fi service with cellular coverage via your phone when needed. You can “tether” other devices to your phone in order to utilize the phone’s data plan. In general, this is not for extended or heavy data usage, but it can be a great option if you just need to use your laptop for something that the phone can’t do. The other day my son downloaded a new book to his Kindle by tethering to his cellphone. One thing to keep in mind is that tethering seems to deplete your phone’s battery faster than ever.

The best of both worlds
Luckily, there are now single devices that allow you to have great Wi-Fi range when you want it and great cellular coverage when you need it. For example, the weBBoat 4G Plus by Glomex includes a 4G LTE cellular antenna and a Wi-Fi antenna, with automatic switching between antennas based on signal quality. It accepts two SIM cards, allowing you to utilize different cellular providers depending on cost, location, etc. Up to 32 devices can be connected on board at once. The antenna unit looks like a small satellite dome and can be mounted in a high spot free of obstructions. Glomex claims you can get reception “up to” 20 miles offshore. Again, your experience may vary, but you typically won’t find reliable signals at maximum range.

One interesting thing to consider is that Glomex notes that your onboard Wi-Fi signal, broadcast by the weBBoat unit, can be significantly degraded on metal boats, so it is possible to connect up to four Wi-Fi router/access points to the unit. You can also connect to LAN ports using an Ethernet cable.

Average power consumption is listed at 150 mA, and it will work on 10 to 30 volts DC. Retail price is $995, which seems reasonable considering all the various components included with the system. It is easy to spend well north of $200 when purchasing just a regular consumer/landlubber-grade, shoreside Wi-Fi router for your apartment.

It would be possible to use land-grade Wi-Fi routers on board too. I took a look at my reasonably up-to-date home Wi-Fi router, made by Linksys; the power adapter puts out 12 volts and the unit needs up to 2 amps. The Linksys could run off an ordinary boat’s 12-volt system, though battery drain would be significant if utilized 24/7. However, it might be an option to improve your onboard Wi-Fi coverage when in a marina or other location with Internet access and the ability to keep your batteries charged up.

Shakespeare Marine makes some units that are very similar in function to the Glomex models. The WebWatch WC-1 and WCT-1 also look like miniature domed satellite receivers, and they offer both increased Wi-Fi reception at great ranges and 4G/LTE reception on the cellular networks. The WCT-1 sports a built-in HDTV receiver, which could be quite useful in coastal waters. HDTV coverage near major U.S. cities can be quite good, and some report better picture quality than when using cable TV. Of course, channel selection will vary from place to place. I have found that TV weather stations are often quite useful when carefully watching the approach of distant tropical systems.

The Shakespeare units operate on 12/24 volts, with a 1 amp max draw. Pricing is in the vicinity of the Glomex units.

Shakespeare also sells their JellyFish JF-3 Classic Multi-Band Antenna, which appropriately looks like a jellyfish due to its domed antenna enclosure sporting three different cables to support the GPS, cellular and Wi-Fi antennas. This unit is a passive antenna, meaning it does not require a power input for amplifying signals, and it does not broadcast an onboard Wi-Fi signal. The cellular and Wi-Fi cables do not sport standard Ethernet connectors, so you will have to cobble together a way to supply an onboard Wi-Fi router or connect to a particular device.

Note that you can also purchase inline signal boosters that will work with various passive marine cellular antennas, but those aren’t the focus of this article on all-in-one solutions to getting your selfies online!

Catch a wave
Wave WiFi is another company offering an almost-all-in-one solution incorporating cellular and Wi-Fi antennas, but the output is a regular Ethernet cable that can be connected to an onboard laptop or separate router. Utilizing a standard Ethernet cable makes connecting to all sorts of non-marine devices much easier, potentially lowering costs. However, many devices require a Wi-Fi signal, which is the beauty of the all-in-ones noted above.

Onboard networking providers

Digital Yacht

4G Yacht


Shakespeare Marine

Wave WiFi


Well known in the RV world, Winegard is now offering a marine unit that looks interesting and is less expensive than most. The Winegard ConnecT 4G1xM combines a Wi-Fi extender with a built-in cellular data antenna and router. A Winegard cell data plan (on the AT&T network) is required for 4G access. With no contracts, monthly data plans start at $20 for 1GB, and you can get 20GB for $150. Unlike the Glomex and the Shakespeare units, the Winegard utilizes an array of five short vertical antennas with no surrounding dome. The unit includes Ethernet ports and broadcasts a local Wi-Fi signal for your boat. Power requirement is 9 to 16 volts at up to 1 amp. List price is $479.

With its relatively costly data plan and the inability to use your own mobile SIM, the Winegard units might be good for those that mostly stay around Wi-Fi with the occasional cruise to more distant waters — hopefully places with good AT&T coverage. Since there is no contract, 4G data could just be purchased when needed.

Less is more
I am not usually a fan of integrating functions on a boat, which can create a single point of failure that takes out multiple necessities. However, in the case of Wi-Fi and cellular data, there are many benefits: fewer power supplies, fewer cables, fewer antennas to site and mount, fewer holes to drill for wire runs, fewer holes to waterproof and fewer controls to manage. Many of these devices are monitored and controlled using smartphone apps. And, your smartphones on board provide the ideal and very usable backups for the single-point-of-failure devices.

Other smartphone apps can assist with the proper installation of an all-in-one unit. For example, I have found that Wi-Fi scanning apps are a great way to test out router positions. You may be surprised by how you can dramatically improve signal strength by relocating a router. Also, phones can be used to help you find open and/or pay-to-use Wi-Fi access points that may require you to send in credit card information or sometimes to call for support.

Having a radar arch bristling with antennas, domes, wires and other electronics can make your boat look like a serious world cruiser, but reducing windage and complication back there might improve your real voyaging experience. And, you’ll be able to watch cat videos while offshore!

This article was originally published by Ocean Navigator in the November/December 2018 issue.

July 8, 2018

Where is Everyone?

That's a photo from July 4th weekend at Cuttyhunk Island, a very popular port of call in Massachusetts. Eventually, even that boat left the mooring and we were all alone anchored in the outer harbor.

Weather--perfect. Wind--light. Holiday--yes. Very few boats. OK, it did pick up on July 4 itself, but there was still plenty of room to anchor inside The Pond.

That was unheard of in the past. Much of the marina was empty too. I don't have any specific information as to why we are seeing less boats on the water, but IMHO this is a continuing trend observed over the course of the last ten years enjoying these same waters.

Those of us in the marine industry see the same pattern in terms of business activity, boats sold, and participants. I suspect the participation numbers are actually much worse than the statistics would indicate. Many of us old farts still own boats, but we also use them much less than we once did. 

There are many factors one could imagine contribute to this: fuel and mooring costs, repair costs, boat prices, lack of time, etc. On the other hand, you can pick up a great coastal cruising boat for a fraction of the price you could when I got started back in the 1980s, and salaries are a lot bigger today. I was recently looking at what would have been a $120,000 dream boat to me back in say 1984. Today, I could pick up that same boat for $30,000. And, there are tons of smaller boats one can pick up for under $5000 that would make fantastic summer cruising homes for someone willing to put in a little elbow grease.

I'll discuss these issues at greater length in the future, but for all those dreamers out there now is the best time I have seen in my 40 years of cruising to find a boat that can take you anywhere. It's a buyers' market--just ignore the hype of the magazines about all the expensive crap you don't really need.

March 31, 2018

Five-Step Anchoring

1. Your main anchor should be able to hold your boat securely up to gale-force conditions, including wind shifts of up to 360 degrees. I recommend one of the new-generation anchors like Mantus, Rocna, Manson Supreme, and Spade. The rule of thumb that works is to go with a steel anchor that weighs about one pound for every foot of boat length, and go up one size if in doubt: a 35-pound anchor for a 35-foot boat, or a 45-pound anchor for a 40-foot boat.

2. All of the anchor rode touching the bottom should be chain, backed up by nylon for those times when you have to anchor in extra deep water. Final scope with chain should typically be five times the water depth + the height of the bow over the water. Height of bow = 5 feet, water depth = 15 feet, that adds up to 20 x 5 = 100 feet of rode. In most of New England having 100 feet of chain means you are usually on all chain, but have 200 feet of nylon backing it up in case you need more length.

3. Lower anchor gradually to bottom until it touches, then pay out chain slowly as the boat drifts back with the wind. Do not drop the anchor to the bottom followed by a pile of chain on top. This is known as the "dogpile" method of anchoring, for good reason. As the boat drifts back, periodically snub the chain so the anchor digs in and the chain straightens out. When you have laid out the proper scope add an anchor snubber of light nylon line totaling about 15-20 feet from the bow roller, with enough line to securely cleat it on deck. You want to adjust this line so there is an arc in the chain and all the tension is on the nylon. This dampens the strain on the anchor chain, windlass, and deck fittings. Also makes things quieter.

4. Once all is deployed, put engine in reverse and gradually increase rpms as anchor digs into position. You should feel a nice solid jerk and the bow should straighten out when you pull tight on the chain. Do a couple of bounces back hard on the anchor chain to make sure the anchor is well dug in. If the anchor is not well dug in things will feel squishy as you back down, you may be able to detect that the boat is going backwards, and often the bow will not swing into a straight line from the anchor. Reset the anchor if it doesn't feel solid!

5. Always have a second anchor ready to go quickly if needed. Your main anchor shouldn't drag if it is set properly, but a midnight wind shift can change everything. Even a well dug in anchor can pop out in a severe squall with a major windshift. A lightweight Fortress anchor makes an ideal secondary hook that can be more easily taken out in a dinghy if needed. Do this if a big blow is expected even if you believe the main anchor is well dug in and well placed. The second anchor is your insurance policy.

6. Bonus tip. Prepare a glass of favorite evening beverage and sit in cockpit admiring the view knowing you are secure for the night.

March 27, 2018

Master of Your Own Domain

When you are living onboard you feel like the master of your own domain, so why not purchase your own domain name for your personal blog, website, and email addresses?

A domain is the part of a website address after the www and before the .com, such as And it can be the part of your email address after the @ and before the .com. The part after the domain (the .com or other) is called a Top Level Domain, or a TLD. You may have noticed that many addresses end in .com, with lots of others ending in .net, .org, or a slew of other TLDs. Many TLDs are viable for use with your personal domain, and you may be tempted to purchase a domain that ends in something other than .com. This is one way to sometimes purchase a domain name that is already taken with the .com ending.

Buy Your Domain

Unfortunately, there is a downside for most of us if we stray beyond the most popular options of .com, .net, and .org. Spammers and other dobadders have purchased lots of domain names using some of the other lesser known TLDs, such as .xyz. Subsequently, many top-level TLDs, as attractive as they might be to you, get blocked by spam filters. I tried out a domain that I fancied which was available with the TLD .xyz, which is the one used by (Google's parent company). One of the first messages I sent using a .xyz domain email address was questioned by a friend. He sent me an email via another channel asking if it was a scam. In short, stick to a .com if you want to look as legitimate as possible and have the least confusion around your address, with the second choice of trying .net or .org if you can't find the .com you want. One other thing that you'll find is people are so used to typing in .com after an email domain that anything else is bound to lead to misdirected emails.

Domains are easy to purchase and don't cost more than about $9-$12 a year through most providers. Reputable ones that I recommend based on my own experience include Namecheap (not the cheapest, but first class), Namesilo (one of the cheapest and reliable), Porkbun (a newcomer and inexpensive) and Google Domains. I own several domains that I have purchased from Porkbun, Namesilo and others. I like Porkbun's combination of low pricing (less than $9 for a .com domain), easy to use interface, and reliability. Namecheap has a bigger name, but I'm not certain they are worth the slightly higher cost. They charge extra for WHOIS identity protection (see below) after the first year, but it is included in the Porkbun and Namesilo price. I find the Porkbun and Namesilo interfaces easier to use.

Google Domains has one flat price, $12 per year, for hosting .com domains. It might be the ideal place to register a domain if you plan on just using email forwarding from your domain, with no dedicated mailbox. In other words, your email gets received by the domain and then forwards to another email client, like Gmail or, where you have an Inbox. I'll show you how you can then send mail from your domain later on.

To find a domain you just go to one of the websites mentioned above, such as You'll find a search box on the homepage where you can start plugging in names that you love. You'll quickly discover that many real words are already taken, and every possible four-letter combination is gone. There are still some five-letter combinations available, but most are not actual words. You may be tempted to add things like hyphens and numbers (allowed), but they could lead to confusion since they are less common. A handy site that helps in finding an available domain is You can plug in lots of options, like five-letter domains that begin with z or q, etc. Keep trying and you'll find a domain you can be proud of!

Host Your Domain

You can purchase your domain online quickly and easily and soon be presented with a control panel where you can do various things with the domain. The basic setup at most domain registrars will include "nameservers" that will announce to the Internet where your domain is and how to find it. You will also find a section of the controls where you can adjust your DNS settings. These include entries that might "park" your domain with a mini-webpage that says something like, "This site under construction." Namesilo and Porkbun provide a standard parking page that tells people the domain is parked with them.

One option to opt-in for is WHOIS privacy. This is the registration contact information for anyone trying to get in touch with the domain owner or manager. Many people (myself included) opt to utilize a registrar service that makes this information anonymous, but allows for messages to be redirected to your actual email address. This helps (somewhat) to prevent scam messages from being sent directly to you constantly, and allows for some anonymity. In general, it is not a good idea to allow your real email address to appear in plain text anywhere on the Internet or else it will be scooped up by web crawlers and spammed constantly.

Another important option on the DNS page will allow you to modify or add MX records that govern where your email goes and how it is handled. Namesilo, Porkbun, Namecheap, and Google Domains allow forwarding of domain email addresses to another location. In other words, I can set up and have it automatically forwarded to my favorite Gmail address or other location. It is easy to set up different forwarding addresses for different email addresses. In other words, I could have go to my Gmail account, but might go to a different account. This is a great setup for husbands and wives, or any couple, to share a domain, but have different email addresses that forward to different places.

Send Email From Your Domain

For some, receiving domain email in another account, say Gmail, is all that is needed. Personally, I love Gmail for its cost (free), large storage limit, and associated services like Google Drive and Google Photos (free, unlimited photo storage), calendars and contacts. I'd have a tough time leaving Gmail for any reason.

But, if you just do the forwarding, any responses you make to your domain emails or any new emails you create will go out with your regular Gmail address as the return address. Many of us would like the option to both send and receive domain email using our domain email address. You can do this by purchasing email services from a specialized provider that gives you MX and other records that you add to your DNS at your domain registrar. Each registrar and each email service provider does this a bit differently, so check out their help sections for detailed instructions. Set up at first can be a bit daunting and typically takes a half-hour or so if all goes well. Don't worry if something doesn't work right at first--you can't really break anything permanently!

There are innumerable email service providers that can provide email services, with a wide variety of options in terms of pricing, storage limits, types of interface available, service options, etc. There are too many to list, but I suggest prioritizing based on three main criteria: reliability, security, and features. It is a very competitive market, so pricing tends to be very similar for similar options. Expect to pay as little as $20 per year at the low end up to $50-$60 per year for robust, professional-grade email.

At the low end I have used and can recommend, which has a service that forwards emails to your other email account, like Gmail, but then also provides SMTP sending services through POBox. They also offer a robust level of service for $50 per year with a 50GB inbox and most of the bells and whistles anyone would want. They are now owned by FastMail, an Australian company that offers similar services but with somewhat different pricing and options. Both services are excellent. Another robust option is to purchase Google's G Suite for $6 per month, with a 30GB inbox and all the other services that Google provides to free users, but with a business level of privacy and security. G Suite even has real customer service available via email, chat, and phone, which is worth the $6 per month over the free level.

However, I have found that the free level of Gmail suits my needs wonderfully, and there is still a great way to send domain email direct from the same Gmail inbox I know and love. It takes a little setup and a few minutes, but in the end you have free domain email that rivals many paid options. 

Domain Email from Gmail

1. Forward email from domain registrar to Gmail.

2. In Gmail go to My Account/Sign-in & security/Signing in to Google/App passwords

3. Create a new "App Password" for the domain you want to add as a sending address

4. Go to Gmail/Settings/Accounts and Import/Add another email address

5. You will see a link to "Add another email address" you own

6. Enter name: John Doe (the name you want people to see your email is coming from)

7. Enter email address: (or other address you want to use and is set up to be forwarded from domain registrar)

8. Select to change Reply-to address to the new email address being added (

9. Select "Next Step"

10. SMTP Server use:

11. Username: (use your regular Gmail address for the account)

12. Password: enter the "App Password" created in Step 3 above

13. Select "Secured connection using TLS" and Port 587

14. Click "Add Account"

15. You will get another box where you will be prompted to enter a confirmation code that will be emailed to the new address (which in turn should be forwarded to Gmail)

16. IMPORTANT: Enter the code manually in the box instead of clicking the link in the email that arrives in Gmail. (For some reason clicking the link from the email doesn't always work.)

17. If all goes well your new domain email address will now appear under Gmail/Settings/Accounts and Import. It can be chosen to be the default sending address if you want it to be.

18. When composing messages in Gmail select the sending address desired using the drop down arrow at the end of the From line.

19. Those who receive email sent from this new domain address will see your new address in the From location in their email inbox, but if they go so far as to explore deep into the email headers they will see that the Return Path is set to your actual Gmail address. Gmail rewrites the email headers to do this for some reason. The only way to avoid this is to send your domain email using a SMTP server outside of Gmail using a service like, FastMail, G Suite, or another of your choosing. However, only rather technical types would ever delve into the email headers, so for most correspondents your email will appear to be coming from your domain email and any replies will be sent back to your domain email.

Rewards of Your Own Domain

Aside from the branding advantages and the nice feeling of having a unique email address, there are some further benefits to having your own domain email. Since you control the domain names and where your email is being forwarded you are no longer at the mercy of an unreachable giant like Google if your email account is shut down or you are locked out. Similarly, if using a full-service email service provider that you don't like or goes belly up just change the domain DNS settings and you are on to another provider. It is unlikely to happen, but not unheard of. Do some Googling around to read some horror stories about people locked out and losing years' worth of correspondence, contacts, and documents. If this happens and you still are using Gmail simply redirect your emails by changing the forwarding or the MX records at your domain registrar.

Another advantage is the ability to have an email address people will find easy to remember and distinctive. Instead of JohnZQ136458 at Gmail you can be You can also create new email addresses for specialized uses. You might want to have a few generic addresses for use in places where you might not want your name to be known. It is possible to set up a "catch-all" system where anything written before the @ symbol will be forwarded to you. The idea is to have a different address for American Express and Visa, and another for Boat US and Defender. In other words, you can have a unique email address for almost anything, making it easy to determine where spam is coming from. This can also make it easy to block a specific address.

However, I don't really recommend using the catch-all method since anything sent to your domain will be vacuumed into your inbox. Spammers often send out emails to lots of guessed addresses since there is very little cost, assuming quite rightly that many emails sent to people like "info" and "contact" will have a working address. If you limit the addresses your domain accepts you will limit the amount of spam coming in.

Lastly, your own domain email is potentially more secure and private than large, free email services. Thieves tend to go where there is a lot of opportunity to score and the chances are very slim that some odd domain is going to be lucrative. Generally, your personal domain won't attract much attention. Still, I would only go with domain registrars that offer robust security, including two-factor authentication when logging in. Same goes for any email providers. You will find many, many options for domain registrars and email services, but stay away from ones that are too small and obscure to have much of an online track record. You may be able to save a few bucks a year, but there are many reputable options that are very competitive in price.

I look at domain email as another way to personalize my tiny, obscure corner of humanity, while also gaining some great practical benefits. Try it, you'll like it!