This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five Weeks On A Boat!

I know, big deal, five weeks on a boat. It may seem like no big deal at all for some of my boating friends who have spent months or even years cruising the Intercoastal Waterway of the eastern U.S., the exotic coastlines of Mexico or the Mediterranean, trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic or even around the world. And, of course, they are right. But considering that we have owned our boat, the Key of Sea for only five years and never taken it beyond a handful of 4 or 5 day cruises through the San Juan Islands all of which are within a days cruise of home, this cruise was a BIG deal!                           

The story, as I recall it, and you are most welcome to talk to the other participants for their perspectives, really began a year ago on the occasion of Camp Sucia 2013, an annual weekend rendezvous the Bellingham Sail and Power Squaron takes each year in August. Folks were sitting around at one of our docktail parties when Mike McEvoy says something like, “wouldn’t it be fun for us to take a cruise up into Canada next summer?” He went on to make a few possible destination suggestions like Princess Louisa Inlet and Desolation Sound. There was probably much more to that first conversation but, honestly, that’s really all I needed to hear. I was in! I had only a small idea of what was needed to plan or prepare for this cruise across the Canadian border. That was an adventure all its own.

It was decided that we’d hold a series of planning meetings to start around October or November 2013. Mike and Sarah would host all those who were seriously considering the possibility of doing this.

Five weeks were mentioned early on as the likely length of time needed to see the areas we were planning to cover. By the second or third meeting the itinerary was becoming more solid. The departure date was settled on and then we started in seriously discussing everything anyone should know before attempting a trip like this. I won’t bore you with the list but it was lengthy and detailed and I have mentioned much of it in earlier blog entries.

The number of those initially planning to go dwindled in early spring--from a high of maybe 30 folks down to 8-10.  Then a few others dropped out until it became just Star Dancer and the Key of Sea for the entire trip. The good news was that three other boats would join us for shorter segments of the trip and then veer off as they needed to head home for a variety of reasons.

The cruise was a success when considering that Princess Louisa Inlet was a destination in and of itself. The squadron had five boats and 14 people tied up there for 3 days. Not a bad turn out considering the distances and time involved in getting there. The entire cruise was a success for us personally. We went places we will probably never go to again and couldn’t get to without our boat, the help and friendship of Mike and Sarah McEvoy and the many others who contributed to our local knowledge wherever we traveled.

The Complete Itinerary--    
Sunday, July 6—Cruise to Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island
Monday, July 7—Cruise to Ganges Harbor, Canada—Stay at Salt Springs Sailing Club
Tuesday, July 8—Cruise through Dodd Narrows on the way to Nanaimo Yacht Club
Wednesday, July 9—Another night in Nanaimo due to weather
Thursday, July 10—Cross the Strait of Georgia to Pender Harbor, Hospital Bay, Fisherman’s Resort
Friday, July 11—Cruise to Egmont and Backeddy Resort
Saturday, July 12—Cruise up Princess Louisa Inlet
Sunday, July 13—Princess Louisa
Monday, July 14—Princessa Louisa--Cruise to Blind Bay and “Mosquito Cove”
Tuesday, July 15—Another night in Blind Bay
Wednesday, July 16—Cruise to Lund
Thursday, July 17—Cruise to Grace Harbor in Malaspina Inlet
Friday, July 18—Cruise to Prideaux Harbor, Melanie Cove
Saturday, July 19—Another night in Melanie Cove
Sunday, July 20—Cruise to West Redondo Island and Refuge Cove, then on to Squirrel Cove
Monday, July 21—Another night in Squirrel Cove
Tuesday, July 22—Hole in the Wall to the Octopus Islands
Wednesday, July 23—Octopus Islands
Thursday, July 24—Octopus Islands
Friday, July 25—Back through Hole in the Wall and to Von Donop Inlet, 2-Meter Cove
Saturday, July 26—Von Donop, 2-Meter Cove
Sunday, July 27—Hariot Bay
Monday, July 28—Hariot Bay/Rebecca Spit
Tuesday, July 29—Gorge Harbor on the hook
Wednesday, July 30—Gorge Harbor on the dock
Thursday, July 31—West View on the dock
Friday, August 1—Smuggler Cove
Saturday, August 2—Smuggler Cove
Sunday, August 3—Pirates Cove and cross the Strait of Georgia
Monday, August 4—Pirates Cove
Tuesday, August 5—Montague Harbor
Wednesday, August 6—Winter Cove
Thursday, August 7—Cruise to Sucia Island/Fossil Bay for Camp Sucia
Friday, August 8—Camp Sucia
Saturday, August 9—Camp Sucia
Sunday, August 10—Camp Sucia and Cruise home to Bellingham

Statistical Data of the Cruise
1.       Total Days of the Cruise--36
2.       # of Boats Participating in the Cruise—5
3.       # of Souls Participating in the Cruise—14
4.       # of Ports of Call—23
5.       # of Islands Visited—9
6.       # of Nautical Miles Traversed—
7.       # of Scoops of Ice Cream Consumed--6
8.       # of Cinnamon Rolls Consumed—3
9.       Average Gallons of Fuel Consumed—3 gallons per hour of engine operation
1      # of Mosquitoes Swatted—We lost count but a lot
1        Average # of Ooos and Ahhs Per Day—5-6
1       Orca Pods Observed—2

1      # of Rum Drinks Made and Consumed--About 1 per day per person

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Old Man Returns From the Sea and a Broken Fresh Water Pump

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting my journals along with some photos of our 5-week adventure cruising through the islands of the west coast of British Columbia. It was an amazing journey through pristine waters, lush islands and forests, wild life sightings, wonderfully endless days with choices to do absolutely nothing or to take a hike, swim in the Salish Sea, sleep late, all totally off the grid.

I look forward to sharing my stories, the many lessons I learned about what my boat was capable of doing as well as myself.

We arrived back in our home port of Bellingham, Washington on 10 August 2014 around 1200. Our first stop was the pump out station where we docked on a starboard, bow in tie. Perfect landing in a 5-7 knot wind. Before this adventure I would never have attempted that docking maneuver in anything other than a calm day. The dock is too beat up with water spigots sticking out and the wind always does tricks around that dock that frustrates me. But I've learned a few things about close in maneuvering over the past weeks that I'll share with you in those upcoming blogs.

Today Leslie and I went down to the boat to do a deeper cleaning--especially the inside. I shampooed the outside really well yesterday when we arrived home from Canada. I'd also refilled the fresh water tank. As we began cleaning I turned on a faucet aboard to clean a sink. I noticed that the water pump was making a noise other than the one it normally makes and not a drop of water came out. Strange. It had run flawlessly the entire time we were away for five weeks.

I opened the hatch cover to the tunnel running down the starboard side of the boat and peered in. I could see the water pump. It wasn't leaking or hot or anything else except that it wasn't pushing water through the water lines.

I carefully disconnected the two water lines (intake and outflow) and out of the intake line came a moderate stream of water--steady and making a wet mess in the tunnel. I didn't panic too much since I knew it would all eventually wind up in the bilge and empty overboard, but the flow did need to be stopped so I didn't any waste water. I crimped the hose and wrapped it with tape to stop the flow.

Disconnecting the 12-volt power to the pump, I next unscrewed the four screws holding the rubber vibration suppressors to the floor. Out came the pump. It looked fine from the outside. A little corroded and rusty but not bad for what remarkably turned out to be the original water pump.

I took it over to Tri-County Diesel to have them look it over and bench test it. Their conclusion was that it was shot and all they could do was order a new one.

I took it to Redden Marine up the street and they told me they hadn't seen a pump that old for some 16 years. They were astounded that it had lasted so long. Their conclusion was that replacement parts were not available and I needed a new pump.

The new Jabsco fresh water pump in place.
The new one, a Jabsco Sensor Max 14 Variable Speed Water Pump is sooooo much quieter. Due to its variable speed it doesn't automatically use 5 amps every time it runs. It senses the pressure needs of the water system and responds with only the amps needed to power the pressure the system requires. It also provides a stronger flow. 

$250 minus the 10% Power Squadron discount and I was out the door. Back at the boat I connected the outflow and intake hoses, wired up the 12-volt power supply and powered up the system. The pump hummed quietly down in the tunnel. Leslie turned on the galley sink faucet and out came water! It works and I did it! NO LEAKS!

It was a bit of a rush job but we still have a lot of summer left for boating and that will require we have an operating water system that provides dish washing, showering and cooking water. So it needed to happen. the new pump will provide us with years of service.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Club

Who knew that I would ever be in a position to join or would ever find myself wanting to join a social club of any kind? Well, it has happened.

As members of the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron, we have made a lot of friends. Over the past year a number of them have encouraged us to also join the Bellingham Yacht Club (BYC).

A great opportunity opened up about a year ago when most of these friends had joined under a really great deal. The club was looking for new members so for a period of time there was no initiation fee and reduced membership dues. Sweet deal. We passed. We just didn't think the whole social club thing was us.

Our friends kept telling us we should have joined. They were having a ball and wanted us to be a part of it. 

"It really isn't like what you think," they'd say.  "Everyone is really friendly!"

What finally changed our minds were two things. First, they had another "deal" recently which made joining more affordable. Secondly, we found out about the "reciprocals." For boaters this is a big deal. It turns out that there are hundreds of yacht clubs all over the west coast. Dozens in the northwest. If you are cruising in an area near a yacht club you can tie up on their guest dock for free! No charge! This can save you $50-75 dollars a night in places. In other words, it can pay for your yacht club membership in no time if you take advantage of it. Well, now you have my attention!
Sailboats on the guest dock in front of the BYC deck.
Turns out that the folks at the club are friendly, too. Yes, we joined. I'd told our Power Squadron chums that if there was ever another "deal" we'd join. Well, as I said, there was a deal. Not as sweet as the one a year ago but good enough to go ahead and do it.

We've been going to the club a couple of nights a week and meeting up with friends, having a drink or dinner or both and thoroughly enjoying the view from the deck out onto the boat harbor. The food and drinks are cheaper than going to a bar or a restaurant since it is a not for profit establishment. Wednesdays are burger n' brat night. A burger and a brew are only $6. You dress your own burger with all the fixings and toss on a little potato salad and a bag of chips. A couple of times a month is steak night--a huge filet mignon with salad and a baked potato for only $15. You can't get that anywhere for that price and it includes a beer!

Anyway, you can see I am quite taken by the place. It is beautifully appointed inside. I couldn't find a photo anywhere of the interior so you'll have to take my word for it. The bar and seating area are warm and inviting. There is a laid back feel to the place. A side room has overstuffed chairs and a fireplace. At the south end of the bar/dining area is a deck the full width of the building. Any sign of the sun and the deck is the place to hang out with views of the docks and the islands beyond.

The BYC also owns a beautiful bay out on Lummi Island called Inati Bay, only an hour cruising from Bellingham. It is available for anyone to anchor in but the shoreline is available only to members. We haven't been there yet but plan to soon.

Our trip to Canada will give us the first opportunity to use those reciprocal privileges. We anticipate using them enough to pay for our membership and then some. We'll keep you posted. Tonight . . .is steak night!

The AIS, Dinghy Lettering & Lifesling2

Just when I thought I had everything set with our new Chart Plotter, RADAR and AIS navigation system, for some reason no AIS signals were visible on the chart plotter display. I was assured by friends with AIS systems that I should be receiving signals from several vessels in the harbor area. Hmmmm . . .

I rechecked my connections. Reread the owner's manual. Hmmmm . . .

Finally, I contacted West Marine, the source of all this gear, to ask who they recommended as a technician to troubleshoot the problem. They and my general electrician Mike Heintz both recommended Pacific Marine Electric. Owners Shawn and Jason offered some suggestions by phone. The suggestion that held the most promise required my configuring the chart plotter to acquire the AIS signals by changing the baud rate to a higher speed. Try as I might I could not find the source in the chart plotter that would make this change.
Note the orange AIS lettering on the screen.

Next day, I called Shawn back and arranged for him to meet me at the boat at 9 the next morning. He arrived on time and, after a few pleasantries, cranked up the chart plotter and AIS to take a look. He did note that the power wire connection I had made was not a real good connection and fixed that, though it was not the real problem (I was getting power to the unit).

Shawn began poking the touchscreen buttons allowing him to go to deeper levels of the software until he found the button he was looking for. BEEP! And on screen appeared a half dozen targets all with the familiar AIS coded symbols. He was done.

"Seriously? That's it?" Says I.
"Yep," says he.

I'm feeling pretty embarrassed until Shawn points out that the numerical baud rate button he had asked me to look for a couple of days before wasn't actually labeled that way.

My sheepish look may have had some influence but Shawn decided he just couldn't charge me for just pushing a button.

YES! We visited a little longer and he headed on to his next job.  I sat marveling at the little
The RAM mount behind the chart plotter.
orange vessel symbols moving across the display. My new nav system works!

Oh, I didn't mention that the RAM mount I ordered for the new Garmin 740s chart plotter had arrived. Mounting the Garmin using its standard mount leaves it well above my head and difficult to reach. The Ram mount allows me to adjust the entire unit in any direction. Really cool!


The 3"X 24" strips of 3M stenciling paper had been sitting aboard The Key of Sea for a couple of weeks. The folks at Special-T created the series of letters and numbers that make up the registration "lettering" that must appear on both the starboard and port bow of  the boat along with the annual registration tag. The sheet of instructions I was given by Specialty-T were impossible to read and the verbal instructions were of little help. Fortunately the internet had great video instructions. A quick stop at the auto body parts store to pick up a soft squeegee and off I went to the boat.
Today was the day. I pulled out the blue masking tape in the parts locker, a pair of scissors and my squeegee.  I applied a piece of blue masking tape along each end of the lettering and one piece down the mid point.

The lettering is carefully adjusted and taped to the side of the dinghy. Pulling away the lower layer of paper towards the middle, I exposed the underlying stencil. Applying the squeegee to the lettering, each black letter stuck to the rubbery hull of the dinghy. Gently pulling back the top layer of paper, the pristine,shiny lettering stood out. All of about 10 minutes and half the job was done.

It was easy! I really thought it would be a bigger deal than it turned out.

We're heading off soon on a month-long adventure into Canada aboard the Key of Sea. I'll share more about that in a later blog entry. But we've spent a lot of time gearing up for this cruise. New, upgraded nav gear. Registering the dinghy so it can be used for more than just running from ship to shore, adding a stern tie system and so much more.

We've decided to add a  Man Over Board (MOB) rescue system. We have long considered what the outcome would be should one of us fall overboard and it isn't good. The water here stays around 50 degrees. Being in water at that temperature for only a short time will cause the victim to loose the function of their limbs making self-rescue nearly impossible.

The Lifesling2 with 5 to 1 tackle would enable either of us to lift the other out of the water should it become necessary. All that is required is to get the yellow U-shaped flotation collar to the victim. For that there is a technique which must be practiced to work. The collar is tossed overboard in the general direction of the victim. A long 125' polypropylene line follows the collar out of the storage bag. The bitter end is kept tied off to the boat. 

5 to 1 Tackle System
The skipper circles the victim with the boat which drags the line and collar closer in until it reaches the victim who must then put the collar under their arms. The skipper shuts down the engines and begins pulling in the victim until they are alongside the boat. The 5 to 1 tackle system is used to lift the victim up out of the water and onto the deck.

The question is where to locate the contact points for the 5 to 1 tackle system to be attached to the boat when it is deployed. I have a buddy who has the system on his boat and has done a lot of practicing using it on the water. He gave me a lot of suggestions for where to install the hardware. Now I'll need to explore the best places on my own boat so the system works most efficiently.

The system arrives in about a week, just in time for us to get it installed and ready for the trip north. I'll write more regarding the system, its installation and practicing its use in a later blog.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Key of Sea Electrical & Electronic Projects Completed


After months of planning, disappointing starts and stops, The Key of Sea is finally ready for action at sea.

I must say that she is far from clean. A wash, a pressure washing and cleaning every nook and cranny inside still awaits.

But now, when you turn the keys the engines start. The battery charger works and the batteries are all fine and new.

My concern over why my batteries suddenly would not hold a charge turned out not to be the issue.  To recap, the fellow in the slip next to mine called the port who called me and said an alarm was going off on the boat. When I got to the boat I knew right away the alarm was coming from the inverter unit.  The remote display indicated the batteries were holding only 3.5 volts. Not good!

Upon investigating, I found two of the four cells in the starter battery were dry.

new inverter
Even after replacing the starter battery, the voltage would not stay up. Hmmmm.

At the end of my capabilities, I called my electrician, Mike Heintz, who discovered my 5-year old Xantrex inverter/battery charger was shot.  Mike was not happy that the unit had gone
south after such a short life and decided to install a unit with a better reputation. He installed a combined DC/AC modified sine wave inverter-battery charger, 1-3 kw, 120 volt Freedom 458.

new remote display
The new unit's footprint is larger than the other but is quieter and, more importantly, the remote display is far easier to read. Problem solved!

Then there is the new Garmin RADAR unit project. The new 740s chart plotter has been up and running for some time. The new AIS unit was also installed and appeared to be working.

I still had not run the power and data cables from the lower bridge all the way to the RADAR arch where the RADAR dome needed to be mounted. Also, an antenna needed to be installed for receiving AIS signals.

I am happy to report that all is complete.

I discovered that a $15 fish tape is invaluable when running wire through tight spaces inside the hull and bulkheads of the boat. That discovery must have saved
me hours, a few bruises and more than a few choice words.

Even had some good luck when I discovered that the "L" mounting bracket I originally purchased for the AIS antenna would not work. There are no 90 degree angles on the boat. So an unadjustable "L" bracket just wouldn't cut it.  I returned to West Marine site of my purchase and walked out with an antenna that would mount to an adjustable bracket. 

The place I wanted to mount the antenna was already occupied by an old unused LORAN antenna. Removing the LORAN antenna and its bracket, I was amazed that the new bracket's holes were a perfect fit for the new bracket. It all went together very easily.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Project Progress

I have been making steady progress on several projects which I have already reported on here.

Icom handheld VHF radio
The first one, the remote mic project, is actually complete and working great! My Standard Horizon Matrix 3000 VHF radio at the main helm has always had the capability to have a remote mic added at a secondary location aboard The Key of Sea. I intended to add the remote mic at the fly bridge helm above the main cabin. Instead I purchased a handheld Icom brand VHF radio. Waterproof and as it turns out, pretty bounce proof, it can be used anywhere aboard or in the dinghy.

Since adding a Ditch Bag to our boat, my intent is to place the handheld radio into the ditch bag. For that to work, I needed to install that remote mic which is exactly what I did last weekend.

CMP 30 Standard Horizon Remote mic RAM 30+
This remote is actually wired directly into the radio at the main helm so, unlike the handheld radio, it has the full power of the main radio. That is qu
ite a bit more powerful so this is an important upgrade. The remote mic also has all the control capabilities of the main radio due to all the buttons located on the apparatus. It even has the DSC button on the back of the mic so that, with a push of the button, an instantaneous call can be made to the Coast Guard giving them all the vital data they would need to locate you--boat name, owner's name, lat and lon, a detailed description of the boat and who to call in an emergency.

The hardest part of this project was really just getting the connecting wire run from the main radio up through the tight spaces and up to the fly bridge.

Remote mic connection, left and the hook to hang the mic. 
Then there was the hole that had to be drilled for the connector installed on the control panel. In our case, there was already a hole. It was an ugly thing that had been used for who knows what a long time ago and was now hidden by an especially tacky plastic plaque. The plaque removed, the hole had to be enlarged a bit to accommodate the connector. Once done, the job was pretty much done.

I did add a bead of silicon around the connector to hold out the inevitable water that will splash on it from time to time, rain and waves.

The connector on the curly cord in the mic photo above is plugged into the connector in the photo above right. The connection is covered with a rubber plug in the photo to resist corrosion. Once plugged in, the radio can be turned on and off from this remote station as well as turn on all the sound effects sometimes needed while underway such as a fog horn sound the blasts from the hailer horn mounted above the front windshield. It is also a PA should you need to shout instructions or warnings to nearby boats.

Project done!

Garmin GPSMAP 740s touch screen chart plotter
The second project is a major one and the most time consuming. It is a navigation system upgrade which includes a new Garmin touch screen 7-inch chart plotter which is integrated into a new high
Em-Trek R100 AIS receiver unit
definition (HD) color RADAR dome and my new Automatic Identification System or AIS. Each component of this new system, the charts, the radar images and the AIS targets can all be overlayed to give me all the information I could want when it comes to seeing what is out there in the high traffic areas of our boating area, especially around the many islands that can sometimes hide fast moving large vessels that can suddenly appear around a headland and be on you very quickly.
Garmin HD Radar dome

To date I have the AIS installed, powered up and connected to the chart plotter. I have the chart
lotter powered up and working and I have the RADAR powered up and the connecting wires that send the power to the dome and the wires which send and receive data, all prepared and ready to pass through the hull to the fly bridge and on to the RADAR arch.

Notice the radar dome high above this boat similar to ours. The
narrow white piece of the hull swept back at about a 45 degree angle
 is the radar arch.  
The arch is located at the highest point on the
boat, some 15 feet above the water and above the flybridge helm.  It gives the greatest unobstructed field of view for the radar to seek targets on the farthest horizon.

The wiring has to pass from inside the cabin, up through the hull and inside the radar arch to reach the dome. I'll need a sunny day so I can open up the arch and run the wiring without getting soaked.  I'm still waiting!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Preparing and Planning for Canada Cruise

Turns out it is a big deal to cross the Canadian border in a boat. When we drive the 20 minutes north from Bellingham to the Canadian border, its a pretty easy process to cross. Not as easy as it was pre-9-11, but pretty easy. Sit in a long line of cars, hand the border guard your passport and answer a few predictable questions. Voila, your in.

In a boat, well, its more complicated.  Not insurmountably complicated, just complicated and nobody tells you half off what you need to know or the documents you need. Enter the experienced members of the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron. 

For the past few months a group of about 25 of us has met regularly to prepare for a cruise of over a month into Canadian waters. The idea came about in a conversation that a few of us had while on our squadron's annual Camp Sucia Rendezvous last August out to Sucia Island in the San Juan Islands. Our friends Mike and Sarah McEvoy casually mentioned the idea of such a cruise and we latched onto it right away but figured nothing would come of it. 
Map of Princess Louisa Inlet

We held an interest meeting at Mike and Sarah's home last fall and were amazed at the level of interest. The group has met about once every other month since then discussing an itinerary and all that is needed to prepare for such a trip. 

Crossing That Border

As I said, a boat crossing the border into Canadian waters is much more complicated than just driving a car across. With only a U.S. Passport, you can cross by boat but you are required to make a stop at a designated Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) site. 

For a boater, that means reporting directly to one of CBSA's 439 designated Marine Reporting sites across Canada. Many of them are located at yacht clubs and marinas and consist of no more than a special telephone, a sort of border-services hotline that will connect you to an agent. Unfortunately, making your way to one of these locations often requires the boater to travel out of their intended course wasting precious time and fuel. Once there the boater waits until an agent appears to do the inspection, checks documents, etc. Assuming that goes well, that's it. Welcome to Canada. The documents are the issue. There are quite a few you need to
The view at the end of Princess Louisa Inlet
make sure you have.

First, the Nexus card. We have so many opportunities to go into Canada, to visit friends, go to concerts or just hang out in Vancouver (its only 40 minutes away) that we decided a few years ago to apply for NEXUS cards. These great little cards allow you to get into a special express lane at the border. They also expedite your entry into and out of many countries when traveling by air. Obtaining one does take some effort. An interview, a background check by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a little less than $100 in fees per card and, provided you have no sordid past, you'll receive your cards and all their priviledges. 
When entering Canada by boat with a NEXUS card, just call when you are crossing the border and let the CBSA know where your first port of call will be. When you arrive they will either come down to the dock and meet you or, if after a few minutes no one has shown up, you are
Ariel view of Desolation Sound
free to go about your business. Easy, huh? Not quite.

You also must have in your possession, BR numbers and a DTOPS decal on your boat. Oh and don't forget to have a radio license (not required in the U.S.) and proof of insurance . . .well, you get the picture. Its a little more complicated. And what's more, nobody tells you any of this. If I hadn't found all this out through our Power Squadron cruise planning meetings, I might well have wound up languishing in some jail cell or god knows what. Okay, it isn't bad but fines could be leveled, the boat confiscated or, at the very least, you could be escorted back across the border.  

The BR Number

The Boater Registration Number is unique to your vessel and each passenger aboard including the master. You keep it for use on subsequent visits into Canadian waters. In the case of the master the number is attached to both the vessel and the person. Passengers must also get BR numbers that will only be attached to their name. If the number is lost, it can be retrieved by a Border officer.

You can receive a BR number when you are issued a NEXUS card. In our case we didn't get one. We didn't know to even ask for one and no one in the NEXUS office suggested it. Don't have a BR number when you arrive at the border? No worries. You can be issued a BR number upon your first call into the CBSA 888 number. In our case we elected to call the NEXUS office ahead of time and get our numbers. Already having them does expedite the crossing process.


But wait! There's more! There is a "user fee" to cross the border. Your proof that you've paid this fee is a decal issued by the Decal/Transponder Online Procurement System or DTOPS. I haven't found anything to explain this fee except that any boat over over 30' must display the decal when in Canada. I guess you can't complain too much. It's current cost is only $27.50 and, again, it beats languishing in a dank, wet Canadian gulag! 

So, you have your NEXUS cards (one for each person aboard or you can't use them at all for your I.D. You'll need your passports instead). You have obtained your BR numbers and DTOPS decal. Now what? There's more?

FCC Radio Licenses

Interestingly, these two licenses are not required in the U.S. to use your VHF radio. But cross the border and Canada does require them. Hmmmm. You don't have to take any tests to get them just go online to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), fill out the forms, pay the fees and your legal. For a little less than $200 you can obtain the two licenses. One is good for life and the other for 10 years. The online process was easy. They even have a help line real people answer and really help you with your questions. It is a ridiculous must but somehow I feel bettter having done it. 

Organize Your Documents

Okay, you have all the documents. Now get a three-ring binder and organize all the documents. I got one of those binders that has a clear plastic cover and spine. I created a nice identifying color cover complete with a photo of our boat and our names and slipped it into the cover sleeve. I did the same with the spine. It looks nice. But what is inside is far more important.

This binder contains all of the documents mentioned above for ease of access by yourself and border agents. Ours includes:

--boat registration
--dinghy registration
--Proof of insurance (copy your policy and include it)
--BR numbers and phone numbers to call at the borders
--DTOPS decal receipt (
--FCC Radio Station License (
--FCC Individual Radio Operator's License (

Having your documents all neatly organized and ready for inspection also makes the entry and re-entry process much easier.

Happy boating!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Neatness Counts!

Live and learn! Owning a boat is that times ten. It is a combination of systems any one of which requires extensive knowledge to master its idiosycracies--the engines are a combination of several systems alone (and I have three--two 110 hp inboard diesels and a 2 hp outboard for the dinghy). Then there is the plumbing system (waste water, fresh water, hot water), the electrical system (110v and 12 volt), the electronics--chart plotter, radar, VHF radio, AIS...well, you get the idea. And I am not particularly adept at any of them.

Baby steps though have slowly brought me to a bit more awareness with the functioning of the aspects of each system.

So, I had a good laugh when it came to fixing a few easy to solve issues aboard the Key of Sea yesterday. I actually accomplished them all and no one had to be called to come in and fix my blunders.

Problem one: how to quickly move a fender when it is suddenly needed elsewhere around the hull of the boat, a problem more often than you might think. Suddenly another boat is drifting in your direction or vice versa. Or, you need to get away from a dock in a wind that doesn't want to let you go. Or a dozen other scenarios that an experienced boater has either seen or had first hand knowledge with.

Enter one of the least expensive fixes I've had in 5 years of owning our boat. The Davis Fender
Fender Tender II in place along the starboard rail
Tender, a simple piece of plastic designed to snap over the top of your railing. The line from your fender feeds through holes in the Fender Tender holding the line in place but also easily adjusted to allow for shortening and lengthening the line depending on the need. Now, instead of having to try and untie a line from the base of a stanchion placing the mate in a precarious position while the sea may be rocking up and down and the knot in the line nearly impossible to untie being wet, now you just pop the Fender Tender off the rail in front of you and move it where it is most needed. Presto!

Problem two: those nasty, very unship shape marks left by the accumulation of dirt and the green slime that grows under the shore power cable lying along the deck. It is a hassle to clean
Dirt and mold accumulated on the deck.
and makes the boat look awful. It stains the shore power cable and it looks very, well, unship shape.

The solution? I've looked at several but the one that struck me as being simple, efficient and least expensive was a Velcro strip that doesn't even go by a brand name. The strips come in several lengths and widths. I found them in the department where line is sold. On a spool, I just rolled off the number I wanted and walked to the counter.

The ones I chose were about an inch wide and maybe 8-10 inches long. The strip tapers at one end and has a slot the tapered end slides through to tighten it around the cable. The strip is covered with the Velcro hooks on one side and the loops on the other, so it sticks together when you wrap it around anything. I wrapped the strip around a spot along the shore power cable, slipped the tapered end back through the
slot. Then I held the cable just forward of a stanchion along the railing and wrapped the Velcro strip around the rail a couple times. voila! Several more of these strips along the railing and the cable was ship shape and best of all, up off the deck. Now when I clean up the messy deck, it'll stay cleaner.
Velcro strip and shore cable attached on the rail.

Problem three: smoke/carbon monoxide detectors.  There are very expensive ($60-70 each) solutions that must be hard wired into several locations around the interior of the boat. One in the galley and each stateroom. Then, every 5 years, they have to be replaced since the innards lose their sensitivity to smoke and the carbon monoxide. WHAT?

My solution? Buy the standard battery operated home Smoke/CO detectors. They are maybe $15-20 each and last as long as the more expensive detectors made for boats. Plus, no tedious wiring to do. Is that okay to do? I mean, the boat environment is hard on equipment. So boating equipment is often more expensive because it has to be made of materials that help it stand up to the caustc marine environment. Right?

The First Alert Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector 
Not always. Yes, stainless steel screws are a must to avoid having the tedious chore of removing one that has rusted to what it was intended to hold. Or, worse, a screw head that has corroded to the point that it snaps off when you attempt to loosen it.

But a device such as a smoke detector needs to be replaced every so many years anyway. Let's see, $70 for a device that gets replaced and rewired in 5 years, or $20 and no rewiring? Get the picture?

Up on the walls the new detectors went yesterday afternoon. Job done.

Problem four: how to be prepared for boarding by the Coast Guard here in the US or Canada? It does happen now and again and not because they think you're a drug runner or poaching fish. 

My solution? A binder containing all the boat's most important documents. I've placed each document in a plastic sheet protector. Included are:

--boat registration
--dinghy registration
--current vessel safety check
--FCC radio station license
--FCC individual operator's permit
--DTOPS decal documentation
--proof of insurance
--BR numbers
--phone numbers to call when entering Canada and re-entering the US
--fishing/crabbing licenses

There may be other documents to add later but that's all I have thought of so far. The point is to have your documents in order so that any inspections can be done quickly and efficiently and you can get back on your way. An organized skipper is also least likely to draw attention to themselves. "Hmmmm, I wonder what we can find to dink this guy for?"

I'll talk more about my experiences applying for and getting some of the items in my binder and why they are important in a later blog entry.

My next projects aboard will be considerably more complicated but I am looking forward to them. The installation of my new radar/chart plotter, AIS, and refinishing the cap rails in the cock pit.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Since my election as commander of the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron (BSPS) at the squadron's annual election meeting in January, I have been working nearly full time to organize my Bridge and the new Executive Committee. That has included planning and running an Operations Training Day, accompanying the team to a District 16 Operations meeting in Federal Way where members of the teams from the other 16 squadrons in Washington and Alaska met to learn how to run their squadrons as presented by the district's leadership.

Endless e-mails, phone calls, breakfast meetings have continued with members of my team, especially my Executive Officer who is a god-send when it comes to her knowledge of how the system works. Her husband is a past commander and together they have a much deeper background with the squadron than I.

One of the traditions of our squadron is that the in-coming commander is in charge of the Change of Watch event, or COW.  Though I have been a member of the BSPS Bridge for the past 3 years, each year at COW time I have been out of town and unable to attend. That fact has seriously complicated my ability to organize this year's event. However, with the help of so many volunteers who do the decorating, mail out the invitations, etc. the event is coming together.

Finally, on the 29th of March, at NorthWood Hall in Bellingham, my team and I will become the leaders of the squadron. I have mixed feelings about being in charge of the 170 plus members of this organization. I asked for it. I certainly didn't hesitate when asked to become the Executive Officer last year knowing full well that it traditionally leads to the command position the following year.

But I have never commanded anything larger than a classroom of 25-30 5th and 6th graders. Now I am responsible for making decisions that influence 170 adults and the future of a well-known, highly respected community organization. Scary!

Still, it has so far been an incredible learning experience. I am slowly gaining in confidence and knowledge yet I try hard to be conscious that my every decision be tempered with an understanding that those that are most impacted by those decisions see me making those decisions sensitively and thoughtfully, not haphazardly and without concern for their opinions. In other words, building a consensus.

I'm writing a speech for the 29th that lays out my goals for the squadron for the coming year. My leadership team (Bridge) already knows my goals. That night the rest of the membership will know it. I have rarely agonized over anything before so much as what I want to say and how I want to say it. I understand that it will set the tone for our year. Add to that the fact that the entire District 16 Bridge is coming (something that apparently has never happened before) and you might have some idea the stress I'm feeling to get it right.

I know, I know, Michael, you are taking this whole thing way too seriously! Yeah, I suppose I am, but I am determined to do a great job this year; to be remembered as one of the best squadron commanders in BSPS recent history. I want us to attain our goals and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

I see why so many joke about not being able to wait until they receive that past commander's burgee presented at the end of a commander's year of service. Still, with all the stress I am enjoying the experience and looking forward to the possibilities.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Canadian Cruise Projects

Wow! I looked at the date of my last blog and, well, I feel ashamed to have let down all my fans. You both should have messaged me or some thing to the effect that you missed me! Geez!

So, guess what my topic for this blog will be. Yeah, good guess. Right where I left off. The boat!

Chatterbox Falls in Princess Louis Inlet.  
The big news is that we are planning our very first major trip on the boat. We've been out for a few days at a time, maybe a week, barely. But this is a biggee!

Last August, when we were at the annual Camp Sucia Rendezvous with members of the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron and Langley (B.C.) Power Squadron, a topic of conversation came up about taking a group cruise north up into Canada. Our main destinations would be the Princess Louisa Inlet and Desolation Sound. Princess Louisa Inlet is considered mecca for northwest boaters. Stunning 3,000 foot mountains drive straight out of the sound and tower over those venturing in. Your ultimate reward, after a 30 mile cruise up the narrow inlet, is the scene above. Stunning! 

The idea of a caravan cruise got me excited right away since I knew that it would make Leslie much more comfortable to have several travel partners in their boats heading to the identical destination and into waters completely unfamiliar to us.
An aerial view of Desolation Sound.

This past Fall, an interest group got together and had its first meeting. It went over really well to say the least. Folks got really excited about the idea. Of course, like a lot of things, folks have dropped off the list. But others have come on board as well. As of now, we have 6-8 boats interested. Some, like us plan to be gone for an extended period--about a month. Others will stay with us for a week or two and head home. Others will join us along the pre-planned route.

Since that first meeting, we have had another and the next one will be held in the next couple of weeks here at our house.

Our planning group has brought up several important things that needed to be done before we head over the border and I have steadily been working towards getting these projects completed. They are all important legally speaking when cruising in Canada but will also be useful wherever we are.

Project #1: Radio Station License and Individual Limited Operator's License.

These licenses are not specifically important to have in the United States, but take your boat outside the U.S. and they become mandatory. So, I bit the  bullet and applied for them. Turns out the FCC is very happy to take your money and send you a very official looking document making it legal to broadcast on your VHF marine radio. $220 later I have two documents making me a legal VHF radio operator and, my boat, a radio station.

What does that mean? If I were boarded by the Canadian coast Guard, they would want to see those documents or you could be fined. Check!

Project #2: Ditch Bag

One of the things your boat should have in the event of an emergency abandon ship situation is a ditch bag, meaning in case you have to "ditch" the big boat for your dinghy-- fire aboard, or any catastrophic event that would force you off your boat, you should have a ditch bag.

The ditch bag itself is important. It should be waterproof, should float and should hold the emergency supplies you'd need in such an instance. As we are seldom far from land in our travels, I have planned the contents of my ditch bag to have items that would keep us safe for 2-3. I've included water, granola bars, a waterproof hand-held VHF radio and GPS device, extra batteries for the electronics, space blankets, a tarp, first aid materials, a knife, some line, gloves, chemical hand warmers, a 3 mile visible strobe light, and a solar/hand crank LED flashlight. I also have flares of different types in a waterproof plastic container. We will hopefully have our inflatable life jackets with us which also have whistles and will eventually have their own flashing strobe lights attached to them.

The orange bag will be stowed in a quick-to-reach location so it can be grabbed on the way to the dinghy. I hope we will never have to use this bag or its contents but when and if we do, we'll be ready. The Canadian Coast Guard will also be happy to see it aboard.

Project #3: Dinghy Registration

Like a new furnace or water heater for your house, a ship's radio license and registering our dinghy is money spent that doesn't really show. The ditch bag and its contents are real tangible objects that have a use aboard. Nevertheless, other countries want to see that registration if they pull you over to inspect you and it does happen.

In the U.S. a dinghy our size with an outboard motor our size doesn't have to be registered if it is only used to tender the passengers and crew to and from shore. It can't be used to go fishing, to putt putt around the harbor or go pick up your crab pots.

So, I decided to get the registration sticker and numbers for the dinghy making it legal to for any use. It's like having a second  boat attached, no, wait, it is a second boat attached to the rear end of your big boat with all the rights and privileges. And, again, the Canadian Coast Guard can get persnickety about this so why mess.

Project #4: Stern Tie Project

It is not uncommon when you have to anchor out in Canadian coves and bays, that space limitations make it necessary to tie the stern of your boat off to the shore. This and your anchor hopefully keep your boat from swinging and possibly damaging other nearby boats. 300-400' of brightly colored poly line (so it floats and is visible) are taken to shore in your dinghy, looped around a tree or rock or existing ring and then back to the boat. Both bitter ends are tied off at the stern of the boat. Between the anchor and the stern tie, your boat should remain in place and well away from neighbors. When you're ready to go just untie one end of the line and start reeling it in. A lot of boats have a fancy stern tie reel mounted to the boat and the line is hand reeled onto the reel where it stays until the next use. These reels are usually made of heavy stainless steel and are priced at a couple of hundred dollars without the line or the installation (hey, its a boat!) Mike, the owner of Pacific Marine, a used boat parts store here in B'ham, had another suggestion. He went in his back room and brought out an empty Sampson Rope reel. Made of heavy PVC black plastic, Mike explained how to make a reel for a fraction of the price of those fancy S/S ones.  

Well, getting all that done ought to keep me busy for a while. Add to that some bright work needing doing and repainting of a couple of places on deck and I will be busy right up to our proposed 8 July departure date. Whew!