Electronic charting on Estrellita: The State of Affairs


P1020417This is part of a series on the state of affairs for electronic charting on Estrellita.

Notice that I did not claim this was state of the art.

One thing I enjoyed about running the IWAC Project particularly when I was prepping, was reading about what cruisers are actually doing – not what someone says is the ideal, not what a prepper has carefully researched (and is probably the best) but what people “out there” have cobbled together and are getting along with.

In that spirit, this is the set up we currently have that allows us to get around where we currently are...and we aren’t dead yet

I loosely divide charting philosophies for cruisers into “gold standard” vs. “variety of options”. Of course, like any interesting dichotomy, most people think they are striking a balance between two extremes. However, since everyone’s balance varies from one side to the other, the dichotomy is still useful.

We have definitely taken the variety of options approach to navigation. This is probably not so much because of planning as it is because over time we’ve accumulated different resources and over time the options have changed. Still, although it may not have been put together with a master plan in mind, now that we have all of the options, we are glad to have them. We really like to see a few different types of charts for an area, plus satellite imagery when planning a trip. 

Fairly regularly, on a short sail, we will have 4 methods of charting running. These four methods are:

  1. SAS Planet (freeware) running on a cheap netbook with a USB puck GPS.
  2. OpenCPN (freeware) running split screen on the same cheap netbook with the same USB puck being ported out to more than one COM with the software Franson GPSGate.
  3. A Garmin 76CX running Garmin BlueCharts.
  4. An iPad with iNavx and Navionics charts using only the internal GPS.

On passage we usually have either the Garmin or the iPad running, but not both. The Garmin and the iPad are low power consumers even compared to our old netbook. When we open the netbook for other things we will usually check in with OpenCPN as well but obviously for passages we rarely use satellite imagery – that would just show us a lot of blue water and clouds.

I’ll follow this post with a bit about each of the above.

Cruising Tweeners


The average age of the cruising community is probably somewhere just below traditional retirement age. When Carol and I started cruising we were a few decades younger than average and although we were certainly not young, we were considered “younger cruisers”.

Now that we are hitting 40, it seems a stretch to call P1020070ourselves “younger cruisers”. Although still in the younger half of the cruising community, to be included with the 20 and 30 somethings seems to be claiming something we are not ;)

I’ve adopted the phrase “Tweeners” to describe those cruisers who are in their 40s and 50s. We aren’t standard retirement age but we aren’t exactly young either. We are beTWEEN those two groups. I wish I could remember where I first read this phrase to give credit but I can’t. Personally, I’m looking forward to a few decades of Tweener membership.

Although age isn’t a barrier in making cruising friendships, and we make friends in all age groups, it would be misleading to say that age isn’t relevant. Most younger cruisers are excited to meet other younger cruisers. Having something in common (like an entire generation of culture) is fun. Divers search out other divers. Kids boats search out kids boats for obvious reasons. Child-free Tweeners search out other child-free Tweeners. Kiters look for other kiters.

And then at the end of the day we all get together for sundowners…

The Fruits (and Vegetables) of Saying Hello (and Asking Permission)


Since we started cruising, I’ve had a difficult time getting up the nerve to row up to someone’s property, beach our kayak or dinghy, and say hello. For whatever reason, I have this preconceived notion that I will be bothering them, or invading their privacy, or in some way disturbing their peace. Carol, of course, has no problem doing this.

I know that in future countries we will be expected to row ashore and greet the local bigwigs or officials at every anchorage, and it is easy for me to do so when I know that is “the rule”, but so far, in Canada, the US, Mexico, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, it isn’t required.

Still, it is polite and so I’ve been forcing myself to overcome my mild anxiety.

Of course, as it turns out, most of the people we have introduced ourselves to are living in remote places and welcome the occasionally company. We have never, not once (yet), had a negative interaction after rowing ashore to say hello.

P1020481In fact, the general problem, if you can even call it a problem, is that the hello often turns into an invite for more than a quick greeting and introduction.

We have been invited to have coffee, try smoked salmon and visit and learn about the salmon smokehouse. We have rowed to shore, wearing rash guards and board shorts, on our way to snorkeling, and ended up sitting down for a BBQ (in our ridiculously inappropriate outfits, which of course no one minded). Just a few days ago, we paddled to shore to say hello, ended up with a tour of the property, an invite to go spear fishing the next day and came back with our hats full of fruits and vegetables.

The same vibe applies to asking permission. In French Polynesia, we ask someone for permission to do almost everything if there is someone there to ask. We didn’t start out by doing this, but have gradually come to feel over time that it is our best chance both making friends and of avoiding making a social mistake in a new culture.

Usually, in French Polynesia, the person we ask seems surprised we are asking, says it is no problem, and goes out of their way to help us do whatever it is. For example, if we see someone on the dock, we ask if it is OK to put our trash in the public bin. They usually look confused, smile at us, and say “of course”. Then we ask if they know where we can get a propane tank and they end up driving us to their house, selling us one of theirs (at the same price as the store that is out) and driving us back to the dinghy so we don’t have to carry the tank.

However, *occasionally* we ask something similarly innocuous and learn that if we had done what we intended we would have been making a mild mistake. For example, we have also been told (about trash) “yes, of course…but maybe instead of that small can it is better if you use the big bin over at the town hall” ..and then been given a ride (with our several bags of trash) to the town hall, and back to the dinghy, chatting and learning about the island all of the way.

So, I will continue to be brave, and say “hello” and with sign language or words, ask permission.

Sunglasses for Your Camera


I’ve been recently playing around with using my sunglasses as a polarized filter for my point and shoot camera.

As cruisers, we are often in the position of having hiked up somewhere in order to look back down on the water. My eyes see this brilliant spectrum of blues, greens and yellows, the brown of reefs and I’m absolutely blown away. I snap a picture and it looks…different.

I am, of course, wearing polarized sunglasses and my point and shoot, waterproof camera isn’t.

Here are three shots of the pass to Rikitea Village, Mangareva Atoll, Gambier Islands taken on a gloriously sunny day with excellent visibility from the “Belvedere” hike. The first shot is the camera as normal. The second was taken through a pair of non polarized tinted sunglasses. The third through a pair of grey toned, polarized glasses.


And here is the anchorage at the village without polarized and through polarized glasses side-by-side:


Even though the sunlight and height of the mountain (hill) that we climbed make the reefs visible even without polarization, it is clear that the polarization makes the differences in color pop. However the grey tint of these particular glasses flattens some of the colors and ruins the blues which are my favorite part.

The very best views I have (with my eyes) are when wearing amber tinted polarized sunglasses. I often take them off and make Carol see the same scenery through my glasses. We jokingly call the much improved view “Livia’s World”. Next, I’ll try the same test with our camera with my amber polarized lenses.

Woah, wait, is this for real?



There are so many times when I’m down below in the boat scrubbing something or reading or whatever and I come outside, and the beauty of my surroundings floors me. It’s as if, for a short time, I forgot where I was, and I’m a bit shocked that I’m actually here, in my own version of paradise.

Or maybe I’m already outside but I’m preoccupied navigating the dinghy around coral to the beach, and then I have my head down digging out the dinghy anchor (it’s actually Carol in the photo) and when I look up I’m startled to see where I’ve landed. I have to stop for a second and process the glory of what is surrounding me.

We haven’t become accustomed to the beauty we are immersed in. We don’t take it for granted.

We stop and savor it, often multiple times per day. One of us is always pointing out something spectacular that perhaps the other person has missed.

The visual overload is so intense that sometimes I realize I haven’t noticed the other senses: the relaxing-yet-stimulating sound of the waves crashing on the reef, the smell of the flowers on shore, or the feel of the water or sand.

I. Love. This. Place.

Hookers for Splicing


P1020421If you crochet or knit, consider doing the splicing for your boat.

Anyone can splice, but if you are a crocheter or a knitter, it is as if you have already completed a rigorous pre-splicing bootcamp, and are primed and prepped to become an above average splicer.

Reasons why hookers are ready to splice:

  1. P1020425You already know how to read complicated verbal directions with poorly drawn diagrams and translate them into actual products. If you can take something like "dch ch 2dch" and create a popcorn stitch then you are ready to take a rope manufacturers splicing directions and run with them.
  2. The tools are simpler versions of ones you already know how to use with precision. If you can wield a crochet hook in one hand while keeping tension with the other, or suspend an entire sweater on the tips of two pointy sticks, fids will be child's play.
  3. You know to read the entire set of directions before actually doing anything. You check to make sure you have all of the tools and supplies indicated and that you won't be surprised when you reach step 10 and realize you should have done something differently at step 2.

P1020426Tip: Many people are turned off by splicing because they try their first splice with a bit of old yacht braid they have laying about. Old yacht braid ranges from extremely difficult to splice to impossible to splice depending on how far gone the cover is.

Do yourself a favor and buy a piece of brand new line for your first project. My advice is to buy a length of rope of the correct size for a dockline (don't forget to add extra length for the splice) and use that as your first project. Or if you want something super easy, pick a spectra/dyneema splicing project – even easier than yacht braid.

Online splicing directions are everywhere but you can try here or here. We have this basic set of fids which works very well and seems to cover the sizes of lines we use commonly.

The Flowers of Mangareva



Ahhh…the Austral summer. Sorry Canucks. Sorry Seattleites. Sorry Coloradoans.

We are at 23 S, in the beautiful Gambier Islands, and it is the perfect temperature for us. Smoking hot in the day if there is no wind, perfectly hot if there is wind, and just cool enough at night that a long sleeve shirt sometimes makes sense (but not always).

P1020187It has been quite some time since I commented on the foliage in French Polynesia – probably because the last time I was surrounded by such lushness was in the Marquesas.

The Tuamotus are many kinds of awesomeness, but lush vegetation isn’t their forte. Even the Society Islands don’t have the same dripping green feel as the Marquesas and the Gambiers.

We went on a 3-4 hour walk today and I took some shots of the flowers that I saw in that relatively short period.

Here they are…







I prefer the stars

When we were preparing to leave British Columbia and discussing our thoughts on when to leave Tofino for San Francisco, a friend said that a couple of BCA boats (Bluewater Cruising Association) were planning to leave on a specific date so that they had a full moon for their passage.

This was the first time I had thought about planning a passage around the moon. I don't think that most cruisers plan their passages around the moon because there are too many other variables that are pressing, but the idea of being able to move around the cockpit at night without a light, seeing the control lines, all without turning on a light was appealing. I thought the idea of at least trying for a full moon sounded brilliant.

However, this passage has been filled with blue sky days and clear cloudless moonless nights and in the middle of my night watch, being amazed by the twinkling of Estrellita's namesakes, it occurred to me (bear with me, I'm a little slow it seems) that with a full moon, you lose the stars.

It's a personal thing and on this passage I have realized that I prefer the stars, the milky way, the shooting stars, the rising planets, to the moon. On a clear night, the light of the stars is enough to flood the cockpit if I have turned off the other lights on our boat that ruin night vision.

In fact, last night I stared wide eyed at a huge shooting star only to realize it was a white bird flying across the sky with the top of its body lit up by starlight.


Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


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