Thursday, May 16, 2024


Except for one leak in the Air Con inlet screen lid First Light hit the water without a hitch. The crew pulled us out of the lift pit and tied us up to the pier, giving us all the time we wanted to poke around and make sure everything was as it should be. After looking all around for leaks I held my breath and hit the start switch for the port side engine. Less than 2 seconds of cranking later is was rumbling along at idle, all gauges in the green. That seemed like a good sign so I hit the start button on the starboard side. Same result. How about them apples? 

After letting the engines run for a while I checked that they shifted as they should. That done, we tossed the lines holding us against the lift pit pier, I started playing with the shifters, and we eased forward with a slight wind off the starboard side. It has been months since I moved the boat so the first few seconds were a little tense. I didn't touch the throttles until we were out of the marina. Even then it was just off of idle to move us out to anchor in the middle of the river. We set the anchor. Actually we set it twice having misjudged the wind. With the hook securely buried in the bottom, I climbed down from the flybridge sure something was missing. Oh yeah, anchor snubber. Snubber installed and lines secured, we just sat for a while, the boat swinging gently in the breeze. But we couldn't sit there long as there were still things to check and do.

First on the list was dropping the Dink in the water to see if there was any chance its engine would run. We were in a bit of hurry last fall and I don't think we did any of the things one is supposed to do before parking an outboard for the season. Given that our experience with outboards hasn't been all that encouraging, I was expecting the worst. The routine for dropping the Dink into the water was carefully reviewed because getting it wrong could easily lead to fingers getting squished in places fingers shouldn't be. The Dink plopped into the water without a wince. Then came remembering the routine for dropping the outboard into the water with even more consideration to not mashing fingers. Again success. All that was left was to see if the thing would start.

If I had been forced to bet on the thing starting within the next hour or so, maybe more, my bet would have been, “no chance”. On about the fourth pull the little bugger  sputtered, coughed, and then settled into an easy idle. How ABOUT them apples? The Yamaha 9.9 HP 4-stroke may be my favorite engine at this particular moment, even if it is a bit bigger and heaver than I think necessary for a Dink pusher. I gathered up my life vest, slipped the kill switch lanyard over my wrist, took the rig for a short run around the boat, and almost tossed myself into the river. I had forgotten that the twisty throttle on an outboard works backwards from the one on a motorcycle. I have about ¼ of a million miles on motorcycles. I have maybe 100 miles in a Dink. But I managed to get back on First Light without getting wet.

All that was left to get going was the genset. What were the chances that thing would run? We were batting 1000 up to that point. My experience is that batting 1000 on a boat is even rarer that batting 1000 with, well, a bat. (Actually, I have no idea where “Batting 1000” came from. I assume it is a baseball thing.) With the electrical panel set for GEN rather than “SHORE” I took a deep breath and toggled the gen switch to “Start”. Two seconds of crank, a “chuff” and another second or two of crank and the generator settled into a quiet idle, water flowing easily out of the exhaust. A look at the gauge showed a solid 120 volts AC being available. HOW ABOUT THEM APPLES!

We will be sitting here for a few days, waiting out some weather and getting our living on a boat in the water habits polished up. We are now "off the grid". Electrical power use considerations, water on board, and a constant weather watch are part of the life. We even remembered to hang our "anchor ball". (Well, Deb did.)

Mostly we are simply basking in the fact that we are back on the boat in the water. The next big step will be motoring down the river and turning left. As soon as we do we will be in new territory as this is as far north as we had ever been in Kintala. The first time we left here we turned south to start our cruising adventure. This time we will turn north on the Great Loop route. A new adventure and the first leg toward home.

Just a small change in our view. What a difference a couple hundred yards makes...

Hanging in the slings while we paint the bottom under the jack stand pads.

I realized too late that I had left my coffee cup on the boat.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Disaster Averted

We are just a few days from our scheduled splash. The good news is we are making good progress. But it does come with a price. Most of our work days stretch out to nearly nine hours with very few breaks. A work schedule that is a little harder to pull off these days than it was a couple of dozen years ago.

Deb and I have literally decades of practice working together on projects. She has learned to put up with my (sometimes) impatient responses to projects not going well. I have learned to listen to her suggestions as to how to make a project go better. (Whenever possible work with someone who is smarter than you!) The jobs that are the most fun, for me anyway, are the ones where we have to make stuff up as we go. Replacing the engine room (it really is more like a hole) cameras with ones that will (hopefully) work this time around was just such a project. The system we used was designed to go on trucks, making it easier for the driver to put the rig wherever he or she needs it to be. Making it work in a trawler engine room took a bit of creativity. We had to cut a notch into one of the camera fixtures to make the wiring work. Running electrical cables through any kind of boat always seems to need some creative thinking, particularly when it comes to making it “happy” wiring. And, given that no boat I have ever owned or worked on came with any kind of wiring diagram, figuring out the best and easiest way to get power to the system is always an adventure. In this case we decided to power the camera system off of the same breaker that powers the lower helm chart plotter.

Here's a photo of the display screen at night with the infrared feature.  Cam #1 and Cam #4 are the
dripless seals and shafts, Cam #3 is the engine room forward end to monitor the belts, and Cam #2
is the forward facing camera for the forward deck and view off the bow.

One nice thing about many modern systems is just how little power they need. Even with three cameras, a screen, and the small chart plotter powered up, there is no chance of overloading the breaker other than a short in a wire. But, even saying that, each of the systems is fused separately after the breaker. Sometimes the belt and suspenders approach is just the comfortable way to go. (Update: after getting everything working we decided to remove the old chart plotter since it has been replaced with iPads. Should have done that before wiring in the cameras.)

Jobs that are not so much fun are just those that require grinding, seemingly endless, and near mindless work. Prepping and painting the bottom and running gear are good examples. Buffing and waxing the hull is another. I've got enough miles on me now that jobs like those are just an endless marathon grind. But they have to be done, so grind on. Another type of job is one where the access is so bad that there is no avoiding contortions, strained joints, and complaining muscles. On First Light changing the filtered water faucet in the galley is just such a job. It may be a few days before my wrist and shoulders recover from that effort.

The left image shows looking up behind the sink, a space of about 4". The arrow points to the fitting for the drinking water faucet that had to be replaced. the right image shows the space from the cupboard door, a space about 10" across. It requires removing the filter assy and laying on your right side and doing all the work with one hand.

The task for today was going over the engine room with a fine-toothed comb, changing engine zincs, checking fluid levels, general cleaning and poking around looking for potential problems. With that done, all the necessary items needing done to splash would be complete. All we got when pulling the zinc on the port engine was the brass mounting part. The zinc part had broken off in the heat exchanger. Pop the cover off the end of the exchanger and there was the missing part. Problem solved. The starboard side behaved itself. The zincs were barely used, making me kind of happy. Not sure what the average life time for those zincs might be, something we will have to figure out as we go.

Then I moved on to the generator. The first thing I noticed when removing the sound deadening panels was the smell of fuel. Lots and lots of fuel. The entire catch basin under the generator was awash in the stuff. It is a shallow basin but we still squeezed about a gallon of fuel into the bucket. Had we splashed, motored out to the anchorage, and tried to start the genset...boom.

After cleaning out the mess, I started looking for the leak. It had to be on the non-pressure side of the fuel pump. And, as it turned out, it was right at the inlet to the fuel pump. Both clamps were loose. But why? Well, the clamps were loose because the water hose from the thru-hull to the water pump was too long. With the front sound dampening panel installed that hose was smashed hard against the fuel pump inlet hose right at the pump, kinking the hose and putting pressure on the clamps. I'm not exactly sure why the generator ran at all. It was also the kind of potential flaw that isn't readily apparent. I know I had that panel off at least once to replace the generator alternator during last year's attempt to get to St. Louis. I didn't notice anything amiss when putting the panel back on. But while sitting there trying to figure out the leak? The problem was painfully and embarrassingly obvious.

The too long hose is highlighted. Remove, cut shorter, reinstall. Fixed.

The original reason for uncovering the generator was to change its zinc. That one turned out to be nearly completely gone. It was last changed when the engine zincs were, so it clearly has a much shorter service life. When I first put a wrench on the zinc the entire heat exchanger moved. That certainly didn't seem right. The parts manual shows three clamp mounts holding the exchanger in place. Ours had one secured on the inboard end. The middle one appears to be completely unreachable with the generator mounted the way it is in the boat. The outboard one is barely accessible. I know the mechanic who last installed the exchanger and he is way too good to have only mounted the thing with a clamp at one end. But getting to the outboard end bolt, while not impossible, is really, really, (really) tough. My guess is he didn't get quite enough torque on that one and it simply shook loose. Putting in a new bolt and lock nut and getting as much torque on it as I could took two socket wrenches, two different length extensions, one half inch six point socket, one half inch crow's foot socket, a sharp corner of the generator gouging a hole in my side, and an angle on my right wrist that I will be paying for for the next couple of days. But the heat exchanger is secure, the zinc is new, the fuel leak is fixed, and we avoided a BOOM. Which all makes for a pretty good day. Still, time spent on the generator meant some of the other routine stuff remains to be done down in the engine hole.

Then, just because it is a boat, at the very end of the day the water pump (which has been working just fine since we put some water on the boat a couple of days ago) just stopped working. So, tomorrow's first job is to get the water system going again. Just days to splash and we are still adding things to the bottom of the list.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

All day, every day, working on the boat.

After one longish day and one short day of driving we pulled up as near as we could to First Light with a van stuffed full of stuff. The boat is buried pretty deep in a collection of boats on the hard so it took a while to hump all the stuff from van to boat. After that the “shower curtain” went up over the fly bridge.

We were pleased to find that First Light had weathered the winter pretty well. The deck was mess of course, but the interior was dry and mold-free. There was no evidence of water leaks and the batteries were fully charged. All good news. And, missing grandkids aside, it felt good to be back in our home not yet in the water.

I believe there is a saying that applies to everyone who plans to splash a boat sitting on the hard. “All day, every day, working on the boat.” And so, with the exception of weather bringing a halt to progress, that is our current life. It rained all night last night and is supposed to rain all day today. Which is why I am writing and not working on the boat. Which is also why I'm probably going to this music store this afternoon that Deb found the other day.

We did have an interior job planned for the rain days, that of installing a camera system to replace the ones in the engine room that turned out to be unreliable and definitely not worth the money spent. In addition, the new system includes fore and aft cameras with infrared capabilities all displayed on a dedicated screen mounted at the lower helm. We picked the lower helm because there is really good visibility from the flying bridge. Night travel will likely be done from the lower helm when the infrared capabilities would really help. As for keeping an eye on the engine room someone does a visual of the cabin every hour or so when underway, a good time to look at the engine room camera. Yes, it would be perfect to have those images always in view at both helms, but we have to have money left over to put gas in this thing.

Unfortunately, when we opened the box, we discovered that pieces of the kit were missing and the wiring harness was damaged. I guess Boeing isn't the only company with quality assurance problems. So that project is on hold until some kind of arrangement is made for a replacement kit.

Outside work has gone surprisingly well. It was an all day task but the boat is clean. Bottom paint was a two day task, now completed. The running gear is sanded clean and waiting for a dry day to paint. All new zincs are installed. And, yes, the boot stripe needs painted.

Still to go is teak work, buff and polish, a careful inspection of the engine room including anodes and fluid levels and a general systems review, some of which can't be done until we splash. Once in the water we will drop the dink and see if the outboard is willing. We haven't scheduled any time for outboard repairs, but I will not be surprised if a day or two...or three, goes by while we sit just out in the river trying to make everything work.

All day, every day, working on the boat...but there's still time to enjoy the sunset.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

A Sad Goodbye

I've said it so many times before, that the cruising community was the best part of the years that we've lived on the boat. The friendships that we've made cruising have run the deepest of any friendships we've ever had. I've often wondered why and, in the end, I suppose it's that we all share that same longing for wandering and voyaging and nature and community.

One of those friendships was with Mike and Anja Boyd of This Rat Sailed. They were one of the first people that we connected with on this journey and we hit it off immediately. Over the years comments have flown back and forth between our blogs and we have shared time in various ports, over a hardtop build for their catamaran, over hurricane prep for Joaquin, over Ubiquiti Bullet frustrations, over Tim's cardiac arrest and my broken wrist.

But this week...this week was not supposed to be something we had to share, that no one should ever have to go through.

This past Sunday, as Mike and Anja explored the area around Staniel Cay in The Bahamas, a speedboat up on plane approached them in their dinghy. Mike tried every maneuver he could to avoid the boat but in the end he was unable to do so. The boat hit their dinghy and both Mike and Anja were thrown into the water. They were pulled out and taken to the local medical center where Anja was pronounced dead. Mike was critically injured with broken bones, and an even more broken heart.

How do you process such a needless tragedy? How do you account for the cost of another's recklessness? No words will suffice.

So hug your loved ones today, and count the blessings of each of those you call friends. They are a treasure of immeasurable value.


If you are very lucky in life you will have a small collection of friends for whom you will do anything they ask without question or comment. My list of such friends included Mike and Anja. The challenges Deb and I faced less than a year ago were made much more bearable with Mike and Anja nearby. Deb had faced losing me. I was terrified when I heard her hit the concrete, sure that she was seriously injured.  As we worked our way through those events Mike and Anja were there. Whatever we needed they offered. No question. No comment. But what does one do in the face of such a loss? All I could do was sit stunned, not holding back the tears, as Deb relayed the news when I walked through the door, just home from work. No words suffice, but all of us can imagine how brutal life has become for Mike. Anything. Without question. Without comment. 

Ed Note: We have set up a GoFundMe to help Mike with medical, transport, and funeral expenses. Mike is completely overwhelmed and your kindness will go a long way to helping him heal.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Great Tool Debate

One of the things that you simply can't live without if you own a boat, whether it's sail or power, is tools. If you own a boat it's going to break. A lot. It doesn't matter if you're a mechanic or not, unless you're independently wealthy you better own tools and learn how to use them. A lot of tools.

In addition to anchoring tackle and procedures, tools probably hold one of the top discussion topic positions among cruiser gatherings. Types of tools, brands of tools, favorite tools, can I borrow it tools, and what tools are on the buy-next list. There's even discussions about the degrees of list your boat might have depending on where you store the tools. On Kintala, we had a workshop in the aft cabin starboard side that meant she listed about 5ยบ to starboard. If you're really lucky, you can balance out the tool weight with batteries or food storage or water tanks, but in Kintala it was the only option to keep them organized.

So, you might ask, why the word "debate" in the title of this post? Well, it's because one of the most fevered discussions among cruisers is whether to buy really good tools so that they last, or whether to buy Harbor Freight tools because they're cheap. I'll tell you where I stand on the issue, but I promise there are many that disagree.

First of all, almost everyone I know has a missing 1/2" socket in their set. Why you ask? Because it's one of the most common sockets and it almost always involves working either over the water or over the part of the bilge under the engine where no man, woman, or child can retrieve it. Tools get lost overboard at an astonishing rate (along with the hardware you were trying to remove) and, at some 50 years in the future when your boat gets dismantled for the dump, all manner of tools and hardware will likely fall out of the bilge. Replacing your favorite Snap-on socket with an original in the middle of the Bahamas isn't even an option, and watching that Snap-on 3/8" drive ratchet that you've had since you were 18 sink slowly into the abyss can bring one to tears rather quickly, as anyone who has ever forked over hard-earned cash for Snap-on tools can tell you.

In addition to losing tools, the salt air is brutal to all things metal. Unless you have nothing but extra time to sit and polish and lubricate all of your tools at least once a month with WD-40, they will rust. Salt has no respect for the fancy Snap-on logo. It is an equal opportunist when it comes to destruction. This brings us to the power tools.

Power tools will rust inside the deep, dark depths of their inners, and there is very little you can do to stop it. The corrosion lifespan of power tools seems to be exactly the same whether you buy the $400 drill or the $38 drill. There's also the discussion of cordless vs corded power tools. We have a cordless drill onboard for ease of use, but we also have corded tools of every other variety—sanders, drills, multi-tools, angle grinders. They tend to be more powerful dollar for dollar and last exactly the same. Yes, powering up the Honda generator and lugging a 50' extension cord to do some work can be an inconvenience, but much less of an inconvenience than running out of battery before you finish a job.

So you can see where I'm going with this. Yes, Harbor Freight is our favorite tool store. And while we have had a couple tools fail early on in their lives, for the most part the tools are very sturdy and do the work well. The one exception we had was their 1/4 sheet palm sander. The brackets that held in the sandpaper wouldn't hold and after exchanging it twice we went to Lowe's and bought one of their less expensive sanders to replace it. Harbor Freight is also the best place for buying consumable supplies—sandpaper, grinding disks, tie wraps, buffing pads, electrical connectors, tapes of all sorts, zoot suits, masks, vinyl gloves, foam brushes, chip brushes, plastic sheeting, blue towels, safety glasses, knee pads...The one thing that I won't get there is hardware. While their hardware is fine for my household applications, the stainless isn't of good enough quality to survive boat life.

I do have to add a caveat—we did bring some tools to the boat that Tim has owned for half a century from his days as an aircraft mechanic. Most of our hand tools and sockets came from those tools, as well as specialty items like compound dikes, a gear puller, a tap and die set, hose cutters, tin shears, safety wire pliers, punches and chisels, easy-outs. These were from his original Snap-on and Craftsman sets that he bought for his aircraft mechanic school and the 40 years of being an aircraft mechanic in shops.

Harbor Freight is also the place I buy my hardware boxes. We use them for small parts, hardware, sewing supplies, and even for snack boxes on overnight trips. They come in several different sizes. The thing I really like about these boxes is that instead of dividers inside they have individual little boxes that you can lift out. So when you're up working on a rolling deck, you only lose the contents of the one little bin instead of the whole hardware box. Ask me how I know...

So I thought I'd add here a list of the tools that we've bought at Harbor Freight that we have found indispensable, or just plain useful, and have stood the test of time.

  1. Absolutely at the top of the list is what we call "The Magic Tool". It's an oscillating multi-tool with many different heads that allow for grinding sanding, cutting, plunge cutting, and scraping. We use it constantly. They carry all the attachments for it as well and if you watch their coupon sales you can pick them up pretty cheap. We always have a supply of both wood and metal cutting blades on the boat.
  2. Corded drill. A good, basic, variable speed drill.
  3. Drill Bits.  We have four different sets: a drill bit set for wood, and a better one for metal, a set of spade bits and a hole saw set.
  4. Angle grinder. We don't use it very ofter but when you need it, you need it.
  5. Jigsaw. We use this all the time.
  6. Screwdriver sets. We have 2. A cheap one, and a better one. We have the cheaper ones in places like the galley junk drawer (doesn't everybody have one???) and the more expensive ones in Tim's tool box in the engine room.
  7. Heat gun Ours came in a box with a tool kit but they don't offer it together anymore. Honestly, we rarely use the accessories.
  8. Soldering iron. We don't use it very often but boy when you need it...
  9. Buffer. This is the 10" but we currently only have the smaller 6" polisher onboard.
  10. Saw horses. As cheap as these are we never expected them to last but they have held up dramatically well and they are super lightweight, a big benefit on boats. They fold flat and store easily in our lazaretto.
  11. Work bench. Harbor Freight doesn't carry the one we bought anymore but this one on Amazon is the same although it's ten dollars more than we paid at HF.
  12. Circular Saw. We don't own this one yet but plan to own it soon. 
  13. Sander. This orbital sander has worked well. This square sheet sander is the one we returned. This detail sander has also worked well for us, although the dust collector tends to fall off so we have to tape it.
  14. Knock-off Dremel tool. We also bought their tool kit which is a fraction of the price as the Dremel brand and does an equally good job. It comes in a nice storage box.
  15. Clamps. We have three different styles. The metal screw type, the ratcheting plastic ones, and the hand clamps. We use all of them all the time.
  16. Rulers. We have several and use them all the time. the most used is this combination square.
  17. Spotlights. We'll be replacing ours that died before this season with this rechargeable waterproof version.
  18. Flashlights we have several of these in various locations on the boat.
  19. Extension cords these are super heavy duty 12/3 outdoor cords. They also carry a heavier 10/3 with a triple outlet head on it.
  20. Crimper. The ratcheting type like this one is the best type. We also have this hydraulic crimper for heavier cables like battery cables.
  21. Rivet Gun. We love this rivet gun. Everywhere we go it gets passed around the boatyard.
  22. Tool Kit. This is a very cheap kit of very cheap tools, but we keep it under one of our settees just so that we have a complete tool kit for very quick jobs. It also goes to the apartment when we're off the boat. 
I'm sure that there's a bunch of things I'm missing, but these are the ones that we use all the time and come to mind. We have a standing joke that we can't get out of Harbor Freight without spending at least $100. But oh boy what you get for that $100! 

I do want to mention two particular tools that didn't come from Harbor Freight but are worth mentioning because they're very good tools. When we first bought Kintala we bought these Gearwrench wrench sets from Home Depot. They are ratcheting wrenches that come in SAE and Metric combination wrenches as well as stubby ones and both come in flex head versions. We have all three on board.

The other tool is our Ryobi cordless drill. We bought this drill way back at the beginning of our boating adventure and it has held up well ever since. We've had it so long that they don't even make it quite the same anymore, but we bought the newer version for our daughter for her birthday last year and it's held up equally well so far. I know a lot of people swear by DeWalt, but this drill has performed flawlessly.

So the debate will continue to rage, and everybody has to do what their budget allows, but for us the solution has been Harbor Freight for almost everything we use.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

It's All About The Peeps - The Longterm Peeps

Winter on land has felt interminable, even though the cold weather snap in St. Louis was relatively brief and the spring temps are rapidly climbing. It has given me a good amount of time to prepare for our upcoming trip to try to get First Light the rest of the way to St. Louis. It also gave me the time to do the printed blog books, which led to a whole lot of thinking about the cruising life, our travels, and what it has all meant to me.

Image courtesy of Alex Rooker

I've said it many times on this blog, but it bears saying again—the best thing about cruising for me is the cruising community. The friends you meet along the way become lifelong friends even though you might go years in between seeing each other. The relationships run deep, the trust true, the kindness flows freely. Some we met in passing and never saw again, but some became the Longterm Peeps—friends who we still keep in contact with, the friendships that lasted well through our 5 years on land building up the cruising kitty, that lasted through our transition from sail to trawler. One such relationship is with Alex and Diann of S/V Yacht-a-Fun.

We first became aware of Alex and Diann through the blog. We each visited the others' blogs and chatted back and forth, but it wasn't until January of 2015 that we actually met in person. They had their Gemini catamaran parked on a mooring ball next to ours in Dinner Key in Coconut Grove, and we finally got to meet them for sundowners and discussions about our shared Westerbeke pains (They have a Westerbeast in their Gemini like we did in Kintala.)

Over the years we continued to run into them periodically. They eventually bought property in New Bern, NC and kept a more or less permanent slip for their boat there. When we found First Light in New Bern in 2021, we had the opportunity to see them more often.

Alex is a tour guide par excellence. Everywhere he travels he makes it his business to find the best places to eat and historical places to visit. His brain is a virtual cruising guide, one that we have benefitted from on more than one occasion. He took us on a tour of New Bern in October of 2021 shortly after we bought First Light, pointing out the historical landmarks and taking us and a couple other friends to the best bars with live music, topped off by a visit to a classic ice cream store. Diann is a kind and gentle soul, one that makes you feel instantly comfortable. Her smile is constant, and rounds out the day with a pleasant softness. It was a terrific day.

Image courtesy of Alex Rooker

But it was our contact with them in 2023 that stands out. When Tim had his cardiac arrest, I contacted them on the way to the hospital. They dropped everything they were doing and met the ambulance there. Even though the hospital wouldn't let them in the waiting room with us, the fact that they dropped everything and came meant more to me than I can possibly say. We got to see them quite a bit while we remained in the area for Tim's recuperation and my later recuperation from my broken arm. It's odd that in all the times we've been together—for meals and walks and coffee and boat maintenance—we've never managed to get a selfie with the four of us together. So I confess that I robbed these few photos from their blog.

Alex and Diann, many thanks for your continued friendship, laughter, and support. It's folks like you that make the cruising community such an amazing place.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

A Journey Into Real Pages

We started this blog on August 26, 2007, long before we really had any idea where this journey might take us. It was only a tiny whisper of a dream, this idea of retiring to a sailboat and living a life less ordinary. In the beginning it was mostly to keep our family informed and to provide a journal of sorts for ourselves, but as time went on it became something even other dreamers could identify with. It became a compendium of the cruising lifestyle, of the challenges of fulfilling your dreams. It became something worth saving in print.

With Google's constant transformation, acquisitions and sunsetting of various programs, I became increasingly concerned about losing such a valuable piece of our family history. I once had 150 blog photos simply disappear, something that even Blogger's tech team couldn't figure out. It took me a couple weeks to put them back from my backup folder of photos. After coming back from the boat I had a good bit of time to finally start the project I've been putting off for a really long time—that of making a printed book of the blog to put on my shelf at home.

I looked around quite a bit and settled on because my daughter's mother-in-law had been gifting them a book of their family blog posts each year for Christmas. Unfortunately, they are having some serious technical issues and I was unable to complete the project through their site despite multiple long sessions with their tech team. I wasn't the only one having the issues, and I finally decided to cut my losses and look for another company.

I happened on, a company formed by two brothers, Maarten and Hans in the Netherlands. I immediately liked their business model and decided to give it a go.

Registering for and logging into an account is an easy, straightforward process. It did take me a while to learn to navigate the various screens in building a book, but the emails I sent to the support email were answered immediately, with the time difference between here and Europe in consideration. Maarten was kind and courteous and helped me over the bumps.

So here are the things I really like about Into Real Pages:

  • The importing of the data from the blog was seamless. Posts were correct, in the right order, had the photos where they belong, had the right authors and dates. Everything went perfectly.
  • You can edit the posts right in the program. This was important to me because I was pretty bad about editing Tim's posts for grammar and spelling and punctuation in the early years of the blog. There were also some posts that needed some additional explanation to a book reader rather than an online reader. The editing screen lets you have complete control over the content, including adding or deleting photos. It did mean that I ended up reading the whole blog from beginning to end via the editing screen, but it was worth it to have a quality book. You also have the option of adding full-page photos at any place in your book. I did upload very high quality photos for those full-page ones rather than using the blog photos themselves.
  • Videos all incude a QR code that the book reader can scan to see the video. This is something that blog2print didn't have and it was huge influence in my decision to go with Into Real Pages.
  • You can include the author's name in each post if you have more than one author on your blog like we do.
  • The quality of the printed books is outstanding. The paper is photo quality paper on every page. The photos are clear, the color rich. I did find I had to do some manual repositioning of the photos in order to clear up some blank space between the posts and cut my page quantity down. These are heavy, coffee table quality books.
  • Once you buy a book, they provide the pdf file of it for free. Yes, for free. Other companies I looked at made you purchase the pdf separately. This was also a huge influence in my decision.
  • Delivery of the printed book was very fast. You can also check the status of the print process in your account. The books arrived very well packaged.
I did have some suggestions that I forwarded to Maarten after having completing the 11 volumes it took me to encompass 2007-2022. (I plan on doing 2023 and 2024 in one book after completing our move of First Light from North Carolina to St. Louis.)
  • I'd love to see the books offered in spiral bound versions. The pages are so thick and the books so heavy that it would be really nice to be able to lay them flat.
  • I'd love to see more cover templates. I used a pretty plain one with three photos in boxes on the front and I'm happy with it, but there weren't all that many choices. Our friend Robert used a different template and his turned out nicely as well.
  • I'd like to see the option of adding a photo to the back cover.
  • I'd like to see them add more characters in the description fields both inside and on the back cover.
  • I'd like to have the option of a larger font size for the type on the binding.
  • In the editing screen the photos come with sizing frames, but even if you change the size it reverts back to the original size when you actually build the book. It would be nice to be able to resize the photos in the editing screen and have them stay that size.
All in all it took me about 3 weeks of long days to build 11 books of 15 years of history. I feel so much better knowing that I have hard copies of our experiences and photos on my shelf safe from Google's whims. So if you're the owner of a blog and have the same concerns, go on over to They run sales a couple times a year, usually in Spring, Summer and Fall, which make it much more affordable. I highly recommend the guys at Into Real Pages. They deliver a really quality product with great customer service at a reasonable price. It just doesn't get any better than that.

The full-page photos are a really. beautiful touch.

An example of the video QR code

Our friends Robert and Rhonda's book

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Of Grandkids, Puzzles, Poker, and an adventure of another sort

It's been quiet here on the Retirement Project, but not because it hasn't been busy. Over the holidays we had all eleven of our grandkids here at various times with much princess dressup-ing, puzzle doing, poker playing (Grampy T's specialty and you really haven't lived till you've been beaten by a five-year-old in five card draw...), and planning for a very special adventure.

Image courtesy of Christopher Prugh
For those of you who have followed our eldest daughter and her boating family on their YouTube channel, you may already know of the pivot in their plans. The family has put the boat on the hard in Florida and has moved to Alaska where my son-in-law has been offered a job on the Alaska Marine Highway If you have the time, check out the ferry system at that link. It's a fascinating system of transportation for a lot of people for whom no roads reach their towns. The month before they left they were here for a visit and it was filled to capacity with shopping for the proper winter gear for all six of them and outfitting their Kia van for the trip from here in Saint Louis, north through Canada, and then to Anchorage, AK where they will live until they find the best permanent location in regards to the job.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the Kia wasn't up to the task of navigating the early heavy snowfall in the area and, after reaching a town west of Winnipeg, they had to turn back to Saint Louis and repack things for a flight to Anchorage instead. Once there, they will find a vehicle that can take the weather head on. (So if you know anyone looking for a partially converted camper van contact me through the blog contact form.) It was a pleasure to have all of the kids here together, but this aging grandmother was glad for the break when we dropped them off at the airport. It's an astonishing amount of work to feed teenage kids and to find sufficient winter gear for an adventure like that.

Here's their last episode on the change in plans:

Now that they are settled in Alaska and the holidays are past, our lives have reverted back to Tim's job schedule, which is a challenge in its own right. Getting up at 3:45am for a 5:00am start is no one's idea of a fun time, but his schedule has been pretty light so far so we aren't complaining.

For me, my time is now spent in pre-planning the rest of our Great Loop trip to bring the boat to Saint Louis. We hope to be able to leave for the boat mid-April and to have First Light launched in time to make the New York canal system opening May 10th. Since we all know how our plans worked out this past summer, these plans are more like guidelines—plans from which to deviate—but we'll do our best to make our goal.

Come April, First Light will have been on the hard untended for seven months and we have absolutely no idea what we'll find when we get back there. We did have our Nebo Link hooked up and powered on when we left so that we could monitor the batteries remotely, but something happened to the connection and we had to have someone turn off the breaker. It was reading 8 volts in the batteries even though the solar controller and the battery monitor were both reading 13 volts so either the unit itself failed or there's something wonky going on in the wiring to it. It's been added to the pre-departure list.

Also on the list is adding a coat of paint to the bottom and painting all the running gear with something better. The paint we used last season was not up to the task so we'll probably end up going back to Prop Speed. Tim also wants to do a little more work to the hardtop to strengthen it and there will be an endless amount of cleaning to do after it having sat on the hard that long. Two of our grandsons are planning to go with us for the first part of the trip so we'll have some extra hands to help with the launch checklist.

I admit that a lot of the silence on the blog has been because so far the winter, and being land bound, have  been tough on me. The Tiny Tot who spent so much time with us before we left for the summer grew up while we were gone and now has much more interest in computer games and movies with her siblings than in spending time with old creaky folks. It was a risk I was aware of before we left, but kids grow up and we grow old and nothing can stop it. In addition to being weary of the gray weather, I also admit that I'm still struggling with a little PTSD from the summer health events. I'll be glad when we can get back to the boat and do a little traveling. In the meantime you'll find me working on trying to get back my guitar playing hand strength, or working on my Duolingo Spanish practice, or sitting by the window working on my latest puzzle with my to-do list alongside counting the days till Spring. 

The crew of First Light wishes you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Another moving day...

After several enjoyable weeks of taking up residence in Daughter Middle's basement, being a day-in and day-out part of the family, and taking full advantage of having Grandkids (6) near at hand for games, music, and general mayhem, the day arrived that the lease ran out for the traveling nurse who was renting while we were on First Light. It was the day for moving back into our over–the–garage “granny flat”. 

The Landside Cockpit

I love living on the boat. I like the the travel and (most of the time) challenges that come with that lifestyle. I love seeing new places and anchoring out far from civilization's lights and noise. But as I stepped through the apartment door with my arms full of stuff only one thought filled my mind...”HOME”.

The leaves are starting to turn, the temperatures are near perfect, and a gentle breeze wafts through the two rooms of our land side home. We will do uncounted loads of laundry, try to remember exactly where things went or find better places for them to rest. There is a new djembe drum that needs to find its place. The Ukes have been freed from their boat side gig bags and rest in their brackets on the walls once again. Two of them, the U-Base and the Guitalele, went away the day after the move as they were not missed while we were on the boat. The U-Base just isn't my thing. The Guitalele, with its six strings, is two more strings than my mangled left hand can handle. That would have left two empty spaces on the wall. But we stopped at a new-to-us music store on the way home and, wouldn't you know, they had the perfect Baritone Ukelele just begging to be restrung as a low "g".  Along with the guitar Grandson Eldest left behind when he bought a new one, there are no empty spaces on the wall. So all is well in my musical world.

I find myself wondering about my attachment to two completely different “homes”. I am utterly content on the boat, not really wanting to be anywhere else when I am there (but still missing family). I am utterly content with my land side apartment (but still missing the water environment). Maybe it isn't an issue of having multiple homes? This earth is my home, our home. This span of history is my home, our home. And though I have to admit to being a bit baffled, if not out right appalled and confused over what a lot of people do, the human race is my family. Many of whom are, admittedly, like a wack-job, drug-addled relation that you would just as soon never hear from again. When the news arrives about their latest disaster or conflict one can only shrug and hope they don't think they have been invited to dinner. 

No matter how you feel about here and now and the people who are in it, we are all in this thing together. So getting too bent out of shape about some of the (admittedly horrible) things going on doesn't do anyone any good. Indeed, it might be ramping up the ugly just that little bit more. As much as we might wish differently, there is absolutely nothing most of us can do about any of it, and nothing we can do to avoid it. As the stoic Marcus Aurelius suggests in Book Six of Meditations, “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” A thought echoed by another stoic teacher Seneca, when he wrote, “All that you behold is one—we are the parts of one great body.” It would be nice if a larger part of the human family incorporate that idea into whatever religion, philosophy, nation, race, or tribe to which they happen to pledge their allegiance.

What I see is what I get. Dealing with it is the only option. No matter where I am I will try to enjoy it as much as I can for as long as I can, all while trying not to make things any worse for those who are sharing this space and time with me. If I can can I'll even try to make things for them a little better. 

As for today? We are home. And it feels pretty good.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Text a Buoy

Even though we've been at the whole cruising thing for a really long time, every once in awhile I get completely gobsmacked by something I didn't know and this week was one of those. Did you know that if you don't have internet but you do have phone service that you can text a buoy number to the system and they will return the buoy data to your phone? Here's an example:

For buoys in the Southeast:

Text 843-603-8559 with the number of the buoy you want the information for and press send. You can get the list of buoys at this site:

Here's an example of the text that I tested the system with:

Here's one from just offshore of Tampa Bay that shows wave height:

For Great Lakes Buoy Reports:

In your message box, enter the buoy ID number from one of the buoys listed below. Only buoys with numeric names can be texted. Example: Ludington Buoy: 45024. Depending on the buoy, some of the information available is as follows:

  • Wind speed
  • Wind location
  • Surface water temperature
  • Water temperature at depth (Certain buoys)
  • Air temperature
  • Wave height



 Buoy ID



North Lake Michigan


South Lake Michigan


Milwaukee Atwater Park


South Green Bay


Grand Traverse Bay South


Little Traverse Bay




Cook Nuclear Plant


Port Sheldon




South Haven


Michigan City Buoy




Mackinac Straits West


Milwaukee Atwater Park


Sleeping Bear


Green Bay East


Green Bay West








SPOT-0648 Ludington


SPOT-0700 Little Traverse Bay



 Buoy ID



Mid Superior


East Superior


West Superior


North Entry


South Entry Buoy


McQuade Harbor




Slate Island


Granite Island


Grand Marais




Stannard Rock



 Buoy ID



West Lake Erie


Northern Lake Erie


Port Colborne


Cleveland DO


Toledo Water Intake


Erie Nearshore


Cleveland Wind


Cleveland Intake Crib


Sandusky Bay




Western Erie 2


Western Erie 4


Western Erie 8


Western Erie 13


Gibralter Island


Little Cedar Point






UWindsor RAEON Buoy 1


UWindsor RAEON Buoy 4


UWindsor RAEON Buoy 2


UWindsor RAEON Buoy 3



 Buoy ID



North Lake Huron


South Central Lake Huron


Georgian Bay


South Georgian Bay


Southern Lake Huron


North Channel East


Alpena Thunder Bay



 Buoy ID



East Ontario


Prince Edward Pt


West Lake Ontario


Northwest Ontario




Sodus Bay South


Sodus Bay Center


Sodus Point Nearshore Monitoring Buoy


Oak Ochard Nearshore Monitoring Buoy


Western Ontario


Western Ontario 2





 Buoy ID



Lake St Clair

If you have phone service you can also call Dial-a-Buoy for a report. Here is an exerpt from the NDBC Site


Call Dial-A-Buoy at 888-701-8992 or 301-713-9620

What is Dial-A-Buoy?

Dial-A-Buoy gives mariners an easy way to obtain weather reports when away from a computer/the Internet. Wind and wave measurements taken within the last hour at buoy and coastal weather stations operated by NDBC and a growing number of Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) partners can be heard using a cell phone. NDBC, a part of the National Weather Service (NWS), created Dial-A-Buoy in 1997. In 2007, NDBC and the National Ocean Service's Center for Operational Ocean Products and Services (NOS/CO-OPS) jointly implemented a replacement for the original system which had operated well beyond its expected life cycle. The new system is an extension of the Great Lakes Online service that NOS/CO-OPS is expanding to include its National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON) stations.

Large numbers of boaters use the observations, in combination with forecasts, to make decisions on whether it is safe to venture out. Some even claim that the reports have saved lives. Surfers use the reports to see if wave conditions are, or will soon be, promising. Many of these boaters and surfers live well inland, and knowing the conditions has saved them many wasted trips to the coast.

Buoy reports include wind direction, speed, gust, significant wave height, swell and wind-wave heights and periods, air temperature, water temperature, and sea level pressure. Some buoys report wave directions. Coastal weather stations report the winds, air temperature, and pressure; some also report wave information, water temperature, visibility, and dew point.

How do I use Dial-A-Buoy?

To access Dial-A-Buoy, dial 888-701-8992 using any touch tone or cell phone. Assuming you know the identifier of the station whose report you need, press "1". In response to the prompt, enter the five-digit (or character) station identifier. (For coastal stations whose identifiers contain both letter characters and numbers, use the number key containing the letter - for the letter "Q", press "7"; for "Z", press "9"; etc.) The system will ask you to confirm that your entry was correct by pressing "1". After a few seconds, you will hear the latest buoy or C-MAN observation read via computer-generated voice. At the end, the system will prompt you to press "1" to hear the report again, or "2" to continue with other options.

Dial-A-Buoy also can read the latest NWS marine forecast for most station locations. The system will prompt you to press "2" to continue after the observation is read, then "1" to hear the forecast. You can jump to the forecast before the end of the station report by pressing "21" during the reading of the station conditions.

When you are finished with Dial-A-Buoy, press 9 or simply hang-up!

There are several ways to find the station locations and identifiers. For Internet users, maps showing buoy locations are given at the NDBC Website. Telephone users can press "2" at the beginning of the call to be prompted for a latitude and longitude and receive the closest station locations and identifiers.

When you become familiar with the system, you do not have to wait for the prompts. For example, you can press "1420071" as soon as you begin to hear the welcome message to hear the report from station 42007.

How Does Dial-A-Buoy Work?

The Dial-A-Buoy system does not actually dial into a buoy or C-MAN station. The phone calls are answered by a computer that controls the dialog and reads the observations and forecasts from NDBC's web site.

What are some problems with Dial-A-Buoy?

How do I enter characters for a Station Identifier? Characters are entered simply by pressing the key containing the character. For Q, press "7", and for Z, press "9". For example, to enter CHLV2, press the keys 24582.

How do I quit Dial-A-Buoy? Simply hang-up.

How do I hear the observations for another station? When you are finished hearing the observation or forecast, the system will prompt you to press "1" to hear it again or '2' to continue. The second option will be to press "2" to enter a new station identifier. You can jump to the new station prompt before the end of the station report by pressing "221" during the reading of the station conditions.

If you press 22 at most points in the call, Dial-A-Buoy will take you back to the beginning dialog.

The complete list of buoys is on this map.

This is an amazing resource for sailors of all kinds and one I wish I had known about a lot sooner!