Lithium Battery System Install on our Sailboat

Our sailboat (Jeanneau 43DS) has been lithium powered for 10 months now – with a full 6 month cruising season in BC and Alaska mostly off grid (at anchor). It’s been a game changer not having to worry anymore about running out of power or shortening the life of the batteries by running them down to 20% or 10%. 

Lithium batteries are a big subject that I can’t address fully here, so definitely read up elsewhere to learn! This post is just to share our particular setup, since we’ve had a few people ask. I’m not an expert or an ABYC electrician, but I have read marine electrical books, ABYC guidelines, numerous online sites, and have marine electrical experience on previous DIY projects.

It’s not necessary to do everything we did just to get lithium batteries. My goal here was a ground-up complete modernization of our boat’s electrical system. Since this was a new-to-us boat and many of the electrical components were old, this made sense. Many owners replace only one part at a time (ex, batteries, shore charger, etc) but then you get a mish-mash of old and new systems. 

Lithium batteries install overview

The “heart” of our system is under the aft berth. It’s a tight space to work in, and there were a few other options, but for a few reasons I packed much of it into here.

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How to Quiet the Noises on a Sailboat

One of my favorite things about cruising is the silence. True silence is rarely experienced in normal life – even in a quiet marina or town, there’s always background noise of distant cars, machinery, or appliances. On the water in a wilderness location, we sometimes find silence so deep that your ears strain just to find something. The call of a bird, or the wind in the trees. But in between there’s nothing. The sound of silence. 

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~ WB Yeats

The quiet resets the auditory senses and after cruising for a while we start picking up dozens of subtle sounds we normally wouldn’t notice – specific bird calls, running water from a creek or waterfall, the THUMP THUMP THUMP of a humpback fin slapping miles away, the KER-PLUNK splash of a salmon, the nasally exhalation of a sea lion. Even the sound of a herring ball flashing is something we’ll always recognize now.

One thing non-boaters might find surprising is a sailboat is actually quite noisy at times – wind at anchor can make it sound like you’re in a hurricane, if you don’t do the right things to quiet the noises. On our second boat we applied many of the same noise control techniques we used on our first boat, and also had to invent a few new ones. 

Scenery Cove, Thomas Bay AK

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Big news: We’re Getting a Bigger Boat!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post here – blogging has gone out of fashion in recent years (in fact a long time ago) in favor of social media apps like Instagram and Facebook. For that reason, and because putting together a well-formatted blog post with high quality photos is a lot of work, I’ve focused more on Instagram/Facebook updates.

But we do have some big news to share which will change a lot – we’re getting a bigger boat! A 2003 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43 Deck Salon (DS).

The last year and a half in Alaska made it clear that we could use some more space. Our C&C Landfall 38 has been a fantastic first boat for the past 7 years (with 5 years living aboard), but 38 feet started to feel small in Alaska. Our storage needs grew as we took up fishing, and the cold weather demanded more clothing and self-sufficiency (time between ports grew to 3 weeks at times, rather than 2 weeks down south in BC/WA).

Our current C&C Landfall 38 at Marjorie Glacier, GBNP

Alaska pedigree – the new boat has already been to AK with the former owners!

It’s very hard to give up a boat that we put so much work and love into. But as my grandfather always said, “love people, not things.” A boat is just a tool we use to explore nature and fulfill dreams. And after 7 years we had enough experience to know what we’d want in a second boat for near-year-round cruising / living aboard in the Pacific Northwest:

  • A bigger berth that we can both sleep in without scrunched toes or limited shoulder space.
  • More storage space
  • More windows to let light in (sun is rare in Southeast AK!) and take in the beautiful mountain views. With all the rainy days you spend a lot of time inside in Alaska.
  • Sailing performance – our C&C was made to sail, and that’s not something we’re willing to give up.

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How We Learned to Fish From a Sailboat in Southeast Alaska – Techniques, Lures and Gear

Fishing from a sailboat isn’t quite as simple as on boats purpose-built for fishing. Yet, it can be really rewarding and we found it’s amazingly fun in Alaska, where fish are plentiful. In 2 of our 6 seasons cruising WA and BC we fished occasionally but never caught anything. It took coming to Alaska to finally learn how to fish.

From April thru August 2021, we caught 47 fish over the course of about 50 days with active fishing effort. Some days we’d spend a couple hours out in the dinghy, catching nothing. Other days we’d go out and catch something within 15 minutes.

    • 13 Halibut (all 18-25” except for one 51” monster!)
    • 21 Salmon (13 silvers, 7 pink, and 1 sockeye)
    • 6 Pacific cod
    • 7 Rock fish
    • 28 Dungeness crab (we stopped crabbing around July when we switched to focusing on fish)

Fishing requires knowledge, patience and skill. It can be very frustrating at times (like when sitting in the cold rain not catching anything, or when we lost gear to the bottom). Yet it can be rewarding – other than being vegetarian, I think catching your own protein is one of the most sustainable ways to live in a remote area.

Catching our own food gave us a much deeper appreciation for the sacrifice made, motivating us to respect every fish caught – safely releasing ones we didn’t keep and carefully filleting the ones we did keep to maximize use. Meat (and groceries in general) is quite expensive in Alaska, especially in the small remote villages we visit when cruising by boat. Many of the small towns get their groceries by barge just once a week, and most of their meat is frozen – we found frozen beef with “packed on” dates from over a year ago!

Buying groceries in the store means lots of fuel was burned to ship it there (container ship, barge and truck) and refrigerate it. When catching fish we could be sure that it was as fresh as it could possibly be and processed in the most optimal way. Fish is also extremely healthy, packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

The first salmon I ever filleted (a sockeye). An imperfect filleting job, but I got better after this.

We had a lot of fish tacos and also numerous other delicious preparations.

Fishing Advice

A few caveats – we’re not experts and there are certainly people that know a lot more! (like all the sport charter fishing guides and commercial fisher-people). Fishing isn’t a science and sometimes stuff that should work doesn’t (or vice versa). Fishing is very seasonal and I’m not going to cover that or other things you can easily learn from existing online resources.

Also worth noting – in the fishing world many people are protective about their fishing spots and can be secretive or even hostile towards newbies. This is quite a contrast to the sailing / boating world where there’s a culture of helpfulness, especially towards newcomers. Certainly not everyone takes this position (we met very helpful people too!) but some people who fish believe that additional people fishing will “steal” their fish or deplete the prime spots.

I don’t buy this argument because beginners who are truly interested in learning fishing will learn to do it whether you help them or oppose them. So it seems much better to me to be helpful and sharing of information. In the modern era of Internet and social media, there are no truly “secret” spots anymore anyway.

And for those who think an additional sport fisherman is going to deplete the availability of fish for themselves, they should consider that industrial-scale commercial fishing operations are harvesting far more fish than a sport fisherman, well before it gets to their preferred spots, with a lot of bycatch (unintentionally caught fish which are often wasted).

The Dungeness crabs can be very big in Alaska – often 8-9″. (Note: I have a proper crab ruler but it doesn’t go this high – that’s why I pulled out the tape measure).

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Sailing in Southeast Alaska Compared to British Columbia and Washington

When we set sail for Alaska in late March, on an 18-day quarantined transit of British Columbia, we knew we’d find adventure in Alaska. But we didn’t know we’d fall in love with it. After 5 months of cruising Southeast Alaska, the mountains, wildlife and fishing have impressed us enough that we’re not sure we’ll want to leave. (And we’ll be living on our boat in Juneau for the winter, so that we’re already positioned for a full season here next spring/summer).

Since this was our first time sailing Alaska, and we spent 5 out of the last 6 seasons in British Columbia (which we formerly considered our primary cruising region), naturally many thoughts turn to comparisons of Alaska vs southern waters (BC and WA). I haven’t blogged much about our time here (focusing on Instagram) but figured a summary of our learning experience might help other cruisers looking to come here.

Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska is a tough place to cruise, and the highs and lows are more extreme, but the rewards can also be greater. Some differences (the good and the not-so-good) standout with Alaska:

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Sailing Glacier Bay in Early June: Tough Weather but So Much Wildlife

Glacier Bay National Park, at the northern edge of southeast Alaska, is a capstone destination for many cruisers. We spent 9 days there in late May / early June and had pretty much the worst weather luck you could possibly have. Near constant rain every day, cold, fog, dense clouds obscuring the views, low visibility and little wind (so the sailing was usually poor). And yet, it was still awe inspiring. That kind of tells you how special of a place Glacier Bay is.

It’s the most alive place we’ve ever been. Much like the rest of Alaska, but more. Wildlife that would be a rare sighting in other places is an everyday occurrence here. We saw sea otters and humpbacks pretty much every day, and orcas on several days. Everyday was different, and seeing first-hand the uniqueness of this area made it clear why it’s protected.

We can only imagine what it would be like in sunny weather. Weather impacts perception of a cruising destination immensely. We learned that early in our cruising learning curve when we went to Princess Louisa Inlet and were thoroughly underwhelmed by a lot of motoring and poor views – the mountains were obscured by low cloud cover and rain the entire time. It’s possible to be passing towering mountains and have it look about the same as Tacoma Narrows on a foggy day – with low cloud cover you’d never know there are 2000 foot cliffs and 8000 foot peaks around you.

Glacier Bay was different though. Despite terrible weather, it was still worth it. In fact, the adversity of the weather made us appreciate it all the more in the brief moments when the mountains came out.

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Learning How to Sail in Southeast Alaska

Sailing, actually sailing (not motoring around everywhere in a sailboat), is unquestionably difficult in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Winds aren’t consistent, narrow straits and channels mean a lot of tacking or gybing, strong currents cause the water to kick up into rough, sharp waves, and land effects plus weather systems cause the wind to vary greatly from one area to the next.

But in the past 3 years (primarily in BC) we figured out how to sail in these waters, doing about 70% of our miles under sail. We do this because it’s what we enjoy – sailing a sailboat just feels right, uses less fuel, it’s quieter, and makes us feel more connected with nature and wildlife. I talked more about the reasons and tactics in my 2018 article “Cruising the Pacific Northwest by Wind Power.“

But now that we’re in Alaska we’ve had to relearn how to sail here. Alaska has a reputation for being a place where most sailboats generally do no sailing at all – many people say they never even took the cover off their mainsail! That’s very sad since you might as well have a motorboat then – with more comfortable accommodations and less vestigial weight and cost (from the unused rigging and sails).

The good news is it’s definitely possible to sail a lot in southeast Alaska! It takes effort, just like the Inside Passage does, but a few things make it a bit more challenging:

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Washington to Alaska in 18 Days (With No Shore Leave!)

We made it to Alaska! 18 days. 650 nautical miles. 195 of that motoring and 455 sailing (70%). We stepped off the boat only once, for fuel in Port McNeill. It was the most challenging trip we’ve ever done, made more challenging due to thru-transiting restrictions and the early season. We had sun, rain, snow, graupel storms, high winds, and at times rough seas. The early season meant we usually had plenty of wind, enabling us to sail fast and minimize motoring. Though we had some very tough days, our past years of experience along three-quarters of the route helped a lot.

We were allowed into Canada as a marine thru-transit because we were moving our home to Alaska for residency, and were not allowed to get off the boat or sightsee. We anchored each night to rest (and because it’s unsafe to travel the Inside Passage at night with the hundreds of logs/trees we had to dodge). And we were allowed to stop for fuel, water, or groceries which we did once for only fuel and water. We also were told to get through as quickly as possible – the Canadian customs main priority seemed to be ensuring that no tourism happens.

Needless to say there was no tourism, as we were already motivated to go as quickly as possible. We were dead tired each night and spent our days in transit or fixing issues on the boat.

It’s about 600-700 nautical miles to Alaska from Friday Harbor (where we started in the San Juans) but this distance is deceptive – it feels much longer than that because there are dozens of different weather systems, tidal gates, and sailing challenges to go through. Every day is different, and the wind comes from all directions. One day you might have a southeast gale followed by a northwest gale the next day (as happened around Campbell River).

Going to Alaska this quickly is not what we’d call fun. It was one challenging passage after another, with no break in between and none of the typical rewards of cruising (visiting ports, hiking on shore, water activities like paddleboarding, crabbing / fishing, etc).

A small graupel shower while sailing up Petrel Channel

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2021 Sailing Plans: Alaska or Bust!

2020 was our 3rd year of full-time cruising, but certainly not a normal one. The border closure and pandemic meant we didn’t sail very far and didn’t get to go to our favorite cruising waters (in BC), leaving a big hole in our sailing rhythm. An intrinsic part of cruising is travel to new places. While there may be some who are content sitting mostly in one area year after year, 2020 taught us we’re not that type. The travel part of cruising – nomading, voyaging, exploring – is an essential element for us.

Last year this time our months of preparation got cancelled by the pandemic and we spent the next six months trying to figure out how to make the best of the new limitations on our lifestyle. Our biggest sailing adventure was sailing around Whidbey Island (lol).

After waiting a year for BC to reopen, we’re calling it quits and making a decision for very different cruising plans – Alaska will replace BC as our new cruising territory!  (we’re moving our home – ie, boat – to Alaska as our permanent residency)

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Installing a WeBoost Cellular Booster on a Sailboat

In a previous post back in August I talked about how we added a cellular router to our boat and hinted we’d probably be doing more soon. Now we’re doing the next logical step which is to add a cellular booster. While a decent external router / antenna does the job in anchorages where we have okay cell tower reception, a booster does the job in places where we have a very weak signal or barely usable speeds.

There are very few anchorages like that in the San Juans, but there are some in BC and Alaska. It’s worth noting previous excellent writing has been done on this at I’ll be focusing more on the latest install details plus logistics of where to actually buy this thing from.

First, what is a booster? In simple terms it’s a device that enhances your cellular signal. Before I knew anything about boosters I had a few misconceptions – so you should know: you don’t have to plug your device (phone, router) into the booster and you don’t need a SIM card for it. It doesn’t run on any particular cellular service and the best way to think of it is as a miniature cell tower repeater in your boat. You’re installing an outside antenna to pick up a weak cell tower signal and amplify it through a second antenna inside your boat for a slightly stronger signal.


The WeBoost seems to be the leading player in the cellular booster market for boats, RVs and probably more. The WeBoost Drive Reach is their latest model and what you want – but from there it gets confusing with many variants of this package and many different distributors you can buy it from.

The Drive Reach is the booster itself – the red finned component plus some basic accessories – and the manufacturer packages it with components targeted at cars, trucks, RVs, or land homes – but not boats. They don’t make a marine package, but some of their distributors do bundle it with marine antennas. Different variants of this product name (“Drive Reach Extreme Marine”) are simply marketing terms for packages of additional accessories sold with the Drive Reach. The “marine” ones generally come with an outdoor marine antenna.

Main Product:


Additional items that vary depending on how you’re installing it:

  • Antenna rail mount (if you’re mounting it on 1″ rail tubing)
  • WeBoost mounting bracket (further comments on this later)
  • Blue Sea 1001 Cable Clam (to run the antenna cable through the deck)
    While there are various types / brands of cable clams, this is my favorite for this situation because you can pass the cable terminator through without having to cut it or reconnect coax terminators.

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