Category Archives: liveaboard

Adding Cellular Internet Enhancement to Our Boat (Something We Never Expected to Do!)

For a long time now we’ve avoided adding fancy electronic networking to our boat to build out a wifi network. One of the best things about sailing is disconnecting from the outside world – sailing and anchoring in remote areas where Internet service is weak or non-existent. Time away from the pressures and stresses of the normal world was always one thing we loved most about cruising.

Without Internet, there’s no news, no Facebook, no bills to pay, and overall much less time spent on the computer and more time appreciating nature. So losing Internet access has always been a feature of cruising to us, not a bug. It feels kind of crazy that we’re now working on adding Internet augmentation to our boat.

But we’re in our 3rd year of semi-full-time liveaboard cruising, and things have changed a bit – the fact we can no longer sail long distances north into Canada has meant we have a lot of time on our hands sitting in the same handful of anchorages. Washington inland waters span only a couple hundred miles, which isn’t really enough to consume all of our time for a 6-month season.

So we’re spending a lot more time on the Internet (see my San Juans Cellular Map for Boaters), and looking into taking on some remote work jobs now that it’s becoming more of a thing.

To cut to the chase, the simple, easy solution we decided on (for now) is a Netgear Nighthawk M1 LTE router – by plugging a data-only SIM into it, we get a device that provides a better wifi network than our phones did, because it can be positioned with better visibility to the cell tower.

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San Juans Cellular Map for Boaters

Over the last year I’ve started recording cellular signal strength and download speeds in the anchorages we’re in. While previously we were happy to have some time away from the Internet, recently it’s become more important to stay connected. This is our third year of semi-full-time cruising with no home port, and with the Canadian border closure this year we can’t go very far. So we’ve spent more time online for video calls with friends/family, work, and entertainment.

It’s often helpful to know whether we’ll have fast Internet in an anchorage before we go there. You can look at the cellular provider’s own coverage map (T-Mobile, AT&T). However these maps aren’t very accurate for boaters, and say they have 4G coverage in places where they definitely don’t. They’re not customized to the particulars of a boat in an anchorage. Getting actual, real-world speed measurements is much more reflective of how fast and reliable the signal is in a given anchorage.

The way these cellular speed measurements were collected was through the Speedtest.net app on my Pixel 3a phone, usually from the cockpit of our boat. Our Internet service is a Google Fi unlimited plan, which uses a combination of cellular networks (T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular, in the US) and includes roaming in Canada (or other countries) with no increased data charge. I have heard T-Mobile is better than AT&T in the San Juans, so the results below are most relevant for T-Mobile/Sprint (which have merged).

A few caveats apply to cellular speed measurements: the results may vary based on many factors, including the weather, position of your phone, what kind of phone or service you have, and location of your boat in the anchorage (if you’re next to a big cliff that blocks the cell tower, you could have very different results from someone on just the other side of the anchorage).

This is just a screenshot. See below to get the interactive map.

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How to Grow an Herb Garden on a Boat

We’ve been meaning to try growing herbs on our sailboat for a while now, and with the coronavirus pandemic sending us into full-on social distancing mode in March, this year was the perfect opportunity. We knew we might not be able to get groceries as often, and keeping store-bought herbs fresh for more than a week or so is very difficult on a boat anyway.

In past years we’ve bought some pretty sad cilantro in remote areas of British Columbia – by the time it makes it to the grocery store it’s spent weeks on trucks and boats, getting less fresh by the day, so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t last that long after we buy it.

With some planted herbs, we could harvest what we needed whenever we needed it. We chose to go with cilantro, basil, and mint. Cilantro is one of our most used herbs since we make Mexican food a lot (tacos, quesadillas, guacamole, enchiladas). Basil and mint were chosen because they’re easy to grow and don’t need much space or a large pot.

Other herbs or plants could be grown onboard too. For example, rosemary is easy to grow, but almost every roadside on islands in Puget Sound and the San Juans has that already, and we don’t typically use a lot of rosemary. Lettuce or tomatoes might be nice, but they require a lot of space and don’t produce very quickly.

There are a few unique challenges to overcome with growing plants on a sailboat:

  • Sunlight – Sun can be rare at times in the Pacific Northwest spring, and a sailboat is constantly moving (spinning at anchor, or while sailing) so it can be challenging to keep the plants in the couple hours of sun we get some days in April and May. Many things can block the sun – our dodger, sails, mast, boom, etc. So until the plants got mature I usually moved them around to prime sun locations during the day when we were at anchor.
  • Movement – our boat heels to 15-20 degrees going upwind (and we’re upwind a lot) – close to toerail in the water but not quite. So it’s important to be able to secure the plants so they don’t tip over and spill out dirt (which happened once while crossing Rosario Strait tide rips!).
    Our cabin top below the dodger was the best place to do this, but we could also stow them inside if we expected things to get really rough.
  • Saltwater – Salt is death to plants, so it’s important to make sure no wave spray hits them. Our dodger is very watertight so this worked well for that purpose.

The seeds were started indoors in peat moss pods and then moved outdoors

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Life at Anchor: Coronavirus Thoughts Going into Month 2

We’ve been mostly at anchor for over a month now, and social distancing for over 2 months. Washington State is starting its 3rd month of modified social behaviors (the Stay-At-Home order was mid-to-late March, but we started social distancing as early as March 1). We normally spend 1/3rd of our year living in British Columbia, so to be cut off from friends and beloved locations there has been really hard.

While we’re fortunate overall, the feelings of uncertainty and frustration have been hard, as they are for everyone right now. One thing brought to our awareness is that many people don’t understand the different types of cruising boaters. People tend to assume that all boaters have a home on land, and that when they go cruising they’re traveling away from home and hopping between different marinas each night. To them, being on the water is a vacation, but to us it’s life.

Even amongst the sailing community there’s a lack of awareness of cruising lifestyles and the different constraints faced. So it’s no surprise that government officials making decisions affecting ports / marinas are unaware of these differences as well.

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Living Aboard a Boat is One of the Best Things You Can Do For The Environment

Recently we’ve seen a lot of “greenwashing” – companies advertising they’re doing good for the environment when they’re really just interested in selling their product more. These companies are capitalizing on the concerns many people have for the environment now-a-days. One ad we saw on YouTube – for a company manufacturing a stainless steel water bottle with embedded electronics (for monitoring your water intake through Bluetooth) – claimed their product was earth-friendly because they’re promising to recycle one plastic water bottle each time you use the steel water bottle.

This is of course ridiculous, because the production of stainless steel and associated electronics is far worse to the environment. And all plastic water bottles should be recycled or properly disposed of, *without* having to manufacture a stainless steel bottle to do so. (In case you’re curious, the product is called REBO and fortunately the comments show many others have seen through the greenwashing as well).

Of course, some people are not concerned with the environment (if that’s you, you may not want to continue reading). But increasingly many people are, and they’re struggling to figure out how to help. But, almost never is the right answer to purchase a new product. And there’s an easy way to recognize greenwashing: unless the company is a charity or non-profit, if they’re advertising about how they’re helping the environment, it’s probably more in their self-interest than any actual benefit.

Trash on the beach in Suva, Fiji

We’ve traveled a lot in the last couple years, and seen trash in many, many places that would otherwise be considered “paradise.” In Suva, the capital of Fiji, trash littered the beach for miles, accumulating in layers that will require many dump trucks to remove. Sadly, the poorer a country is, the more trash and pollution it’s likely to have. In comparison, the Pacific Northwest is much cleaner than many other areas of the world – we’re lucky to enjoy such pristine conditions.

Despite the occasional accidental sewage discharge by city facilities (on the order of millions of gallons!), the deep waters and fast flowing currents of the Salish Sea quickly dilute most pollutants. That doesn’t mean we get to sit back and do nothing though.

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How to Survive Your First 6 Months as a Liveaboard

We’re now 6 months into living aboard, and it’s going great. Basically all the things we expected to be great, are, and the cons are manageable. We feel more connected with nature, have fantastic views and sunsets on a regular basis, and enjoy a simpler life with less stuff.

What’s more is we discovered a wonderful community at Shilshole which gives it a neighborly feel we never had living in the city. Living in apartments and condos over the last 10+ years, the most interaction we usually had with our neighbors was a “good morning” as they tore their eyes away from their phones in the elevator.

In apartments, though you’re close to many people, you really aren’t close with any of them.

At Shilshole we’ve done STYC’s Race Your House, hosted neighbors and trick-or-treaters on Halloween, and we know the names of most of the dozen or so people on our dock.

We’ve had a few logistical challenges which we didn’t expect. Much of the preparatory advice we heard focused on the obvious things (like the weather) rather than the practicalities (how to change your address, where to put stuff, etc).

The classic problems have been easily addressed for the most part. Rainforest-like condensation? Easily fixed. The cold, dark winter weather? Nothing you can really do about that but have a good attitude. But our heater has helped (more on that later).

Here are the top 5 unexpected challenges we’ve had from our point of view:

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Managing Moisture as a Liveaboard

Removing moisture from the boat is one of the first challenges for a liveaboard boat in the PNW. Every day, breathing, cooking, and rain drenched clothing add moisture vapor to the air, and that’s on top of a base level of high humidity the outside air is at during our rainy weeks. And let’s hope your boat doesn’t have any leaks, because that’ll just add more moisture to the boat as we get week after week of continuous rain.

We’re now 5 months into living aboard, and it’s going great! The moisture really started turning on about 3 weeks ago, when the night time temperatures became quite chilly. When the outside temp drops to 40 F but your cabin temp is 62 F, that warmer moist air hits a cold surface (hull walls, deck underside, metal deck fills and hatch frames) and quickly condensates.

We really want to prevent mold from forming (when we bought our boat we had a lot of mold to clean off the interior hull and hidden storage spaces: Tackling the Mold Monster (May 2015)) – and keeping the humidity reasonable is the key.

Controls on the EDV-4000

A PNW winter looks like this – day after day of rain

A Good Dehumidifier

The #1 tool for a liveaboard is a good hard-working dehumidifier. We had heard recommendations for the Eva-Dry EDV-4000 from 48 North and other cruisers, so that’s what we tried. And it’s working great! It pulls volumes more water out of the air than our small Eva-Dry EDV-1100 did.

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