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 www.johnkettlewell.com. 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 www.alphabet.xyz (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 Outlook.com, 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 www.namesilo.com. 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 www.domainnamesoup.com. 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 John@MyDomain.com 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 John@MyDomain.com go to my Gmail account, but Jolie@MyDomain.com might go to a different Outlook.com 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 POBox.com, 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: johndoe@johndoe.com (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 (johndoe@johndoe.com)

9. Select "Next Step"

10. SMTP Server use: smtp.gmail.com

11. Username: johndoe@gmail.com (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 POBox.com, 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 John@YourOwnDomain.com. 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!

January 11, 2018

New-gen Anchors are Now-gen

I must admit that before I told the proponents of so-called “New-Gen” anchors to get off my lawn I had a moment’s hesitation. Could there really be something new that would make me give up  tried-and-true options like my CQR and Danforth anchors that had kept my boat’s secure through many blows? 

Frankly, I am a bit of an experimenter when it comes to anchors. Before setting off on a two-year voyage to Panama and back I purchased a little-known option to grace my boat’s bow, a Bulwagga. Based on mostly a few vague test reports and the strong testimonial of a friend who was using one I took a leap of faith, which indicated I had some lingering doubts in the back of my mind about the traditional equipment used in many anchoring dramas. Drama is not something you want when anchoring!

Old Faithfuls

First, it has to be recognized that there is a lot more to anchoring than simply tossing over the latest design that is touted to compensate for your inadequate technique. People like the Hiscocks, the Roths, and the Pardeys have managed to blunder around the world many times using the “Old Faithfuls” like CQR, Danforth, and even the Bruce. The latter I have never had respect for after having personally fended off quite a few boats dragging down or scraping along my sides while supposedly “anchored” with a Bruce. There are those who swear by (instead of at) the Bruce, but it should be noted that they always recommend an enormous size.

I will admit that some anchors are probably great, if you are allowed to use twice the weight! However, my wife, who usually lowers the hook, doesn’t agree. Most of us prefer anchors that offer great holding power at a reasonable weight that can be readily handled by a short-handed crew. I was reminded of this in a remote part of the Caribbean when we met a couple onboard a large trawler yacht that were in a pickle. Their enormously powerful windlass had packed up and they were unable to haul their 150-pound anchor onboard. The nearest possible repairs were over 200 miles away. A bunch of cruisers formed a human windlass and hauled the anchor up, then wished the couple “good luck” as they set off for a non-stop trip to safety with only a single chance to anchor if required.

A New Kid on the Block

It is not clear where or when the New-Gen anchors arrived on the scene. Some will argue that none are really new--only developments of ideas that had been tried previously, but now combined into a new paradigm. In any case, I believe the person who possibly coined the term “new-generation anchors” was Peter Smith of New Zealand, the designer of the original Rocna anchor. He at least popularized the term, and he started a new battle in the anchor wars that have raged since someone tied a rock to a rope and compared it to his friend’s inadequate rock.

I’m a veteran of several anchor war skirmishes, but have since retreated to a safe anchorage where I try to remain neutral. Unfortunately, my refuge anchorages are frequently invaded by barbarian hordes sporting archaic steel weapons on their bows. Based on many unwanted close encounters in squalls, thunderstorms, tropical storms, and gales I have become an anchor voyeur--carefully examining, while trying to look nonchalant, the weaponry displayed when others seek safe anchorage near my boat. I peer out of my pilothouse with binoculars at the inadequate appendages on your bows, and begin to mutter under my breath when I see something truly embarrassing. In recent years I have begun to notice that the difference between meeting someone at 2am as they drag past and having a good night’s sleep is often related to the vintage of your hook.

What brought me to this? The answer arrived in a mysteriously flat box one day. My new Mantus anchor came disassembled, but was quickly put together with several ordinary bolts, nuts, and washers. If nothing else, the sheer genius of creating a take-apart anchor had me nearly won over. One can easily imagine the advantages of being able to stow a spare, taken apart, down below, or possibly keeping that great big storm anchor somewhere deep in the bowels of the boat for that one time you need it.

Why the Mantus? In addition to the take-apart advantage, the Mantus had all the cool stuff that the new-gen gurus were writing about: a large and scoopy spoon-shaped fluke with a very sharp point, an arched shank and big rollbar designed to always flip the anchor upright into its burying position, and a relatively thin shank to aid deep penetration. It also features strong construction with no hinge, and all sorts of bragged about geometry that sounded wonderful.

Fortress: www.fortressanchors.com

Knox: www.knoxanchors.com

Manson: www.mansonanchors.com

Mantus: www.mantusmarine.com

Rocna: www.rocna.com

Spade: www.spadeanchorusa.com

As someone who has anchored successfully in all weather with anchors designed back in the first half of the 20th century I am not easily impressed by hype. I had to try for myself. One of my first experiments with the Mantus was on a night with lightish winds, but in the Taunton River with a strong reversing current. We spent the evening anchored with a large fleet watching July 4th fireworks off of Fall River, Massachusetts. Most of the boats were on short scope, and the best anchoring techniques had not been used in the rush to get to the beer coolers. Of course the wind picked up after dark around the same time the current reversed, and the two forces opposed each other. The anchorage became a mess of boats of all sizes and types spinning in all directions with crews pulling up dragging anchors. Through it all the Mantus stayed put with no fuss, though we too had anchored in haste with little thought to setting for a blow. A modest test, but good to know.

Subsequently, we have Mantused our way around Southeast New England for several years, testing the anchor out in a variety of familiar places where we have anchored many times with the barbarians using old-gen equipment. Cuttyhunk is one of my favorite spots. We know the harbor, the bottom, and how anchors perform there. I have anchored inside hundreds of times--it’s easy because I just drop my anchor in the same hole I have been using for decades! In reality, it can be a challenging anchorage due to many weedy areas, almost never enough room to let out adequate scope, changing winds that can reverse in the middle of the night unexpectedly, and the proximity of numerous other boats that may not be all that familiar with the whims of how to properly use ground tackle. In this anchorage we have been t-boned in the night by a dragging four-boat raft up, we have anchored through numerous gales, tropical storms, and Hurricane Bob, and we have tested many popular anchor types: Danforth, Fortress, CQR, Bulwagga, and now Mantus. Though we anchored routinely with the Mantus for several years before getting caught in a big blow, the first real test came in the Columbus Day Weekend gale of 2016. It wasn’t a survival storm, but we had solid 40-knot winds with higher gusts for many hours. The Mantus held firm with no dragging and no fuss, though our anchor chain snubber line did break in the middle of the night. It was the first time that had ever happened, indicating it was a pretty good test of our anchoring gear. The Devil is in the Details Since that experience, and after numerous other minor blows, I have gained tremendous confidence in my New-Gen anchor. But why is it better than my old CQRs and other traditional gear? First, that very sharp point definitely aids penetration, especially if the bottom is weedy or a bit hard. We always lower the anchor carefully until it reaches the bottom. We then let out chain gradually, with periodic snubbing as the boat drifts back on the wind. Very soon after getting our new anchor we noticed something different in this process. Almost from the time the anchor is on the bottom there is a solid bite. There is never any squishy feeling as you often get as a plow-type anchor does its thing and plows along the bottom. The Mantus just penetrates right away. Because of this, it is not a good idea to dump the anchor and chain and then let the boat fly downwind until it comes to a sudden and abrupt halt--you might break something! The second thing we noticed early on with the Mantus is that there is a slight possibility of fouling the anchor by dumping it abruptly to the bottom, allowing the chain to loop under and catch on one of the “ears” where the big hoop is bolted to the anchor. It doesn’t happen often, but we have managed to foul the anchor a couple of times. Once you get used to the usual solid and early bite the anchor makes you will be able to tell if something is wrong, because if it isn’t you get that squishy feeling from the old plow anchor days. Other anchors with hoops, like Rocnas and Mansons, do not have bolt-on hoops and would not suffer from this problem. Despite the early and strong bite these anchors make we still try to lay out adequate scope of at least 5:1 with all chain, or more if there is a big blow. However, many times I have had to shorten things up in places like Cuttyhunk as the harbor fills up and others begin to crowd around. I feel pretty secure on as little as 3:1 in ordinary wind conditions, and we have never dragged once the anchor has been set in a mud bottom. Set it by backing down hard at 5:1 scope and you can almost immediately shorten things up if you need to. We have also used the Mantus in sandy mud, shelly conditions, smallish rocks, and extreme weed with good success. This is a truly universal anchor, though I can’t claim experience in pure sand as is found in the Bahamas and Caribbean. The aforementioned hoop on the Mantus is larger than on some other New-Gen. anchors. I am not certain, but it seems this aids in shedding mud and weeds when weighing anchor. The large scoop-shaped flukes on these anchors tend to bring up a big ball of muck and junk at times, and I have noticed that some of the non-Mantus designs are a bit harder to clean in this regard. The bigger hoop means there is more space between the hoop and the flukes. A bonus with the hoop design is that it makes for the perfect handle to use when manhandling the anchor off and on the bow roller or moving it around deck. The lack of a hinge between the shank and the head, like the CQR uses, also makes the anchor much easier to physically move around. The hinged designs always flop one way or other, inevitably pinching fingers and banging shins. The thin shank of the Mantus definitely does aid in penetration, compared to some thick-shanked designs like the old CQR. I have observed both anchor types when on the bottom, and the CQR shank was often on its side and not really buried, while the Mantus does tend to roll upright and dig downward. Strangely, despite burying well I have found that when you are retrieving the anchor it comes out of the bottom much more easily once the boat is right over it. After a big blow it would sometimes take an hour or more to pull out a CQR and I have spent half a day pulling Fortresses and Danforth anchors out of the bottom. Not so with the Mantus.the
Another touted feature that we have proven in real-world testing is the amazing ability of New-Gen hooks to reset when the wind shifts. Cuttyhunk is notorious for sudden shifts in the middle of the night when a land breeze overwhelms the prevailing sea breeze. We have been through many 2am anchoring drills when a zephyr of a southwest wind turns into a honking blast of northeast off the land. Needless to say, the many boats on short scope due to inadequate room and poor technique often go whistling away in the dark. If possible, we try to anchor with nobody behind us for this very reason. In any case, we have found that even these complete reversals in a matter of moments are handled well by the Mantus. We’ve also been through quite a few big thunderstorms with winds clocking around from all directions, often more than once--no problem! These New-Gen hooks just reset with the clever combination of the big hoop keeping the pointy end pointed down, the sharp point aiding quick penetration, and the thin but stiff shank with no hinge forcing the anchor to rotate to face the new direction. Another New-Gen anchor that doesn’t use a hoop, the Spade, gets away with it by having a very heavily weighted tip that makes sure the point stays down. Though I have no direct experience with a Spade I have observed several anchoring upwind of me and they seem to do well overall, with one or two dragging incidents observed. I’m not sure if the point and head area is a bit too blunt for weedy bottoms, and maybe the lack of a hoop does make penetration iffier. There are not a lot of Spade anchors in the wild to be observed in comparison to the hoop types, so it is harder to draw conclusions. I’ll have to experiment with one some day! Anchoring Perfection?

About the biggest negative factor with the Mantus is that it doesn’t fit on my bow roller arrangement all that well compared to the traditional anchors that existed when the boat was built. The long, thing shank reaches a bit further back and doesn’t allow me to easily snug the anchor up tight to the roller. It is bad enough that I remove the anchor and wedge the hoop into my bow pulpit at times to prevent the anchor from bashing around. At other times I use lashings to keep it in place. However, I suspect it would fit well on a roller arrangement that was designed for something like a Delta anchor (fixed shank plow type). You might be tempted to try a New-Gen anchor that is one size smaller than your old-gen, but I don’t see the point. If your anchoring windlass and other gear is sized for a 45-pounder you might as well use a 45-pound New-Gen and gain extra holding power. It will rarely be needed, but it is nice to know it’s there.

If you need something lighter carry a couple of smaller Fortress aluminum hooks. They are not really “new-gen” anchors since they are refined versions of the older steel Danforth anchors dating back to the early 20th century. In many independent tests the Danforth and Fortress pattern anchors offer the most holding power per pound in straight-line pulls (when properly dug in). They make fantastic secondary anchors for when you need to kedge a boat off the ground, or for creating a Bahamian moor, or for rowing out in the dinghy with a long rope rode when a big blow is suspected. However, they do not reset reliably in dramatic wind shifts, and they are more finicky to get set in the first place. They are also very difficult to retrieve once they’ve been buried after a big blow. They are notoriously bad in most weedy bottoms. A belt-and-braces approach to anchoring is to carry more than one type of anchor for different conditions, and the Fortress is a great complement to a New-Gen main anchor.

Bottom Line

Binocular peeping has convinced me that when someone is anchoring upwind I want them to be using a hoopy New-Gen anchor; however, I can understand the reluctance to give up on a tried-and-true old friend that you have dragged around anchorages all over the world. I have been there, done that, and decided to move on. There are several different brands and types of New-Gen anchors, but I don’t think you can go wrong with one of the popular designs with a hoop. I have observed good performance from Mantus, Rocna, Spade, and Manson. The Knox is another interesting looking design from a Scottish company, but I have never seen one. I’m sure there are others equally as good or better, but you may want to start your new-gen experiments with one that has a well-known track record. Choose one that fits your boat, your eye, and your wallet, and give it a go! 

To ease the transition I suggest putting the New-Gen anchor on the bow, but keep the old-gen lashed on deck nearby, just in case. It will make a great toe stubber!

This article was published in the January-February 2018 issue of Ocean Navigator.