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Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in life aquatic (22)


how to select satellite internet on a sailboat

Inmarsat SatelliteThe other day Charlotte asked me about Internet access while underway on a sailboat. I had always known it to be expensive even for a slow connection, having worked for a satellite company early in my career.

A very brief primer about satellite constellations might help to explain this. Currently, there are over 3,000 satellites buzzing around the planet. A satellite like the one pictured on the left can sit in orbit in a few different ways. The orbit, altitude, capabilities, quantity, and transmit power define the constellation's profile. 

Step 1: Identify a service provider (these are the people who own or lease the satellites in orbit).

One provider, Wild Blue offers satellite Internet access but only to the lower 48 states of the US. Normally when people think about satellites they think of global coverage. Most satellite constellations, such as Wild Blue's are only covering a (relatively) small area of the world. The reason for this is basic economics: it takes significantly less satellites to cover the primary areas where people live than to have sufficient quantity to be buzzing over Siberia and the North Pole (where no one might need access for weeks or months). 

Even a company like GlobalStar, which you would be forgiven forGlobalStar Coverage Map. Click to expand. expecting to be "global" in its coverage only covers most of the populated land masses and a small amount into the water. 

So beyond simple "satellite internet", most sailors are looking for a true global solution or at least one that will cover the vast majority of their sailing grounds.

Inmarsat Coverage Map. Click to expand.Inmarsat, simply put, has the best combination of prices and global coverage. But take note that several areas are still missing. A few-hundred square mile patch in the Eastern Pacific, Drake's Passage off Cape Horn, and in the Indian Ocean near Oman. 

Step 2: Identify the "solution" that they offer. 

A product designed specifically for small pleasure craft is the Fleet 33. On first glance at Inmarsat's website you might see their entry level (~$500) IsatPhone, but that doesn't work for data applications unless you consider using the phone's keyboard to send emails as "data" (which technically it is). There are more powerful options than the Fleet 33, but the pricing gets astronomical. 

Step 3: Identify the hardware you'll need to install. 

KVH FB150 Installed, the white dome on the port quarter. Click to expand.Since we narrowed our search down to Inmarsat's Fleet 33, most of the recommendations point towards the KVH TracPhone FB150 (pictured left). For roughly ~$6000, you can find these available at and Jamestown Distributors. Power consumption (12v) ranges from 2 amps at idle to 20 amps during transmission. 

Although the price is obviously quite high, remember that a new SSB installation can also set you back a good few thousand dollars depending on what you buy and where you buy it.

Step 4: Pick a service plan based on your estimated usage.

Most satellite companies don't bill you directly, instead you'll need to go through another reseller. Since we're looking at the Fleet 33, we'll hop over to's service plans. Their "Entry" plan boasts the following profile:


  • A minimum 12 month contract at $863/month. Just over $10,000 a year ($16,000 for the first year, including hardware).
  • 126MB/month. For the casual Internet user, this is very little data. As an example, the average smartphone data in the US (as of July 2011) is 4x this amount.  To achieve what would be even a spartan usage of regular Internet service (1GB/month), your costs will be roughly $36,000 a year.
  • 9.6Kb/s (which is roughly the speed of a dialup modem from 1994). 


Summary: Yep, it's still very expensive.

There are certainly some people out there who can justify the costs or have a need for it. And for those of us who suffer varying degrees of Internet addiction, like a heroin junkie perhaps the withdrawals are just too painful and worth stealing your mother's television to help subsidize your habit. If you have the money pay for it and perhaps more importantly you want to invite the potentially maddening experience of trying to conduct business via satellite this might work for you.

And a note regarding costs: the $16,000 - $32,000 numbers represent the cheap side of the equation. For folks demanding DSL level speeds know that they are achievable, but the prices quoted hear will seem like pocket change.


yes, i wear crocs. hate away.

It seems like the only thing that flared as quickly as Crocs is the Crocs-hate campaign that blossomed in its wake. 

When women started wearing "elf shoes" (those shoes with the incredibly pronounced point at the end), I said nothing. When women started wearing "medieval archer boots" (soft leather heel-less boots calf high), I remained silent. When men walk past in sneakers-du-jour that match their Ed Hardy shirts, popped collars, or white hoodies, I said nothing.

But hot damn if I wear a set of Crocs, every yahoo this side of Tallahassee sees it as their personal mission to publicly castrate me for my offense to society. Somehow even jean shorts are worn with pride but Crocs hatred has become hip and fashionable, which actually says a lot about the haters, reminding us that they are swayed to the hate campaign just like they'll be swayed towards some other fashion identity in their near future.

On the boat, they are wonderful. Perhaps not so much for bounding around on an active deck where the nimbleness of a sneaker is hard to beat. But for working on your knees they protect your toes, you won't stub like a flip flop, they dry instantly, and they protect the tops of your feet from a sunburn.

They're also cheap, available online for about $20.

And if you could get over your hate for just a minute, you might realize that they have far more than just the classic Croc shoe you've come to loath.

For about $40 you can pick up their rain boots, which are substantially more comfortable than the $70 West Marine model.

So please, continue your blind hate campaign and make your sneers as I comfortably walk along on my little foot clouds that are squishy and plush with every step. 

As your feet are mangled by your high heels, choked to death by your sneakers, or left unsupported and sore from flip flops. 

Crocs pride, son.


baby onboard

Tomorrow, our daughter Cora will be two weeks old. We spent the first week in the hospital, and the second week on the boat. So far we've been doing what most newborns and their parents do: sleep, eat, use the bathroom, and adjust.

For my non-parental friends and readers, most newborns wake up ever 2-3 hours, feed (you can't really call it "eating" yet) for ~30-45 minutes, and go back to sleep. In between there are a few moments of alertness, superseded by diaper changes, and cleaning up the little spills they make.

I took a month off of work, which has been great. Getting lots of boat work done, getting a chance to help with Cora, and breaking away from work for a little bit.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about the impact of having little Cora onboard shortly. Right now we're just getting a lot done and having some fun, and we've already seen several people who are quite supportive of Cora growing up on a boat, and others who aren't quite so helpful. 

But the things that matter are great. Cora's happy and healthy, Charlotte is, and the boat is still floating.



where the black crowned night herons go during the day

With a strong personality, a habit of hunting for fish at night (often standing on your boat or your mooring line), the black crowned night heron is also notorious for a loud and obnoxious squawk when disturbed. 

However like most night birds, you really don't see them during the day and we've always wondered exactly where they head off to. Charlotte noticed a rather large "dropping" coming from a tree by the water front, and we looked up to see a black crowned night heron camouflaged almost perfectly in the tree's foliage. Looking up from the ground into the sky, the bird is almost completely indistinguishable from it's resting habitat. 

Take a look and see if you would have spotted this guy up there without the big arrow.

click to enlarge 


boat drags anchors, drifts 53 miles, resets

Not sure if this is a record, but it seems a poorly set anchor dragged from Avalon in Catalina Island, sending a boat (with anchor and rode dangling from the bow) drifting towards the California mainland. It was disovered near Oceanside, where the anchor set securely.

For the full story, check out The Log.

The next time you think someone has "too big of an anchor" or "too much chain", this might be a good article to keep in mind.


TheKeel Podcast #1: An Hour With A Marina Manager

Love them or hate them, but marinas are a way of life. I'm doing some podcasts for Decided to spend some time interviewing some of the smart folks along the waterfront. If you're a sailor, you might just find this stuff interesting! For comments, please use

TheKeel Podcast #1: An Hour With A Marina Manager

TheKeel Podcast Home

Listen live right here:


Winter is no sailor's friend

 For those of you who don't live on a boat, rain is probably fun. You can look at it through your window at home, and through your windshield of your car. It's an interesting and quaint aspect of nature that you are insulated from. A coworker of mine even describes it as "cleansing".

Perhaps if the wind blows strongly, you wake up to find some debris on your lawn! Oh my!

For those of us who live on sea going vessels, the winter and its accompanying rain storms is a bit more intimate. There is a special joy that comes with opening up your cockpit to see the once calm waters of your harbor turned into a violent and angry sea, quite ready to dismiss with you as it has so many mariners before you.

To step into a dinghy with four inches of water in it, and then cross a wind swept harbor can make you feel like a Navy SEAL when reading this blog perhaps. But to live it, to live it for months, is quite another story.

And so goes the expression that "winter is no sailor's friend". It causes leaks, makes you cold, produces bad weather, shortens the days, and for lack of a more articulate term is simply annoying.

Feeling the mast pump, sending vibrations not only through your ship but through your very bones is a feeling that most land lubbers may romanticise about, but would not want to experience for a week straight, all night, as the howl from the wind drowns out even regular conversation volume.

I used to struggle with it. I used to fight the winter and its subsequent side effects. Much like someone stuck in traffic, trying in vain to dart from lane to lane. If only they were able to zoom out from the whole mess and see themselves as nothing more than an ant in a big line, marching slowly along. All their frustrations and energy completely wasted by the inevitability of their circumstances.

Now, I pack up my tools in December, and seal up. For roughly five months I watch as the wind and water do what they will to our fine vessel. But now, I realize I am nothing more than the fore mentioned ant, and to resist is futile. I bide my time, awaiting spring. Its longer days and more sunshine allow for proper maintenance, a better attitude, and a welcome reprieve from the cold clutches of winter.

I lived in New England, so spare me your comments about how I don't know what a winter is like as I live here in San Diego.

However, spring time is here. I have re-organized my tools, assembled my boat projects on a hit list, and will be attending to them in short order. Also this blog will get a bit more activity as the icy viel of a San Diego winter is forced into hiding once again. The winter does not like to retreat, and will most assuredly in its death throws send some more weather our way. But with the same certainty in which I can expect winter and all its gloom, summer is likewise quite reliable.


How the liveaboard thing really works

I've had a lot of people ask me over the last few years exactly how the liveaboard thing works. Where do you get a liveaboard slip? Often I hear that people call around the marinas looking for a liveaboard slip, but are unable to find one. But then they see blogs like ours and know that people are doing it, so what's the deal? I will do my best to explain this often confusing situation.

#1. None of the marina managers trust you unless they know you.

There are a lot of deadbeats and weirdos in this world, and for whatever reason a lot of them end up down near the waterfront. Keeping a vessel in good condition requires a constant supply of time and money (you can make do of lack of one by increasing the other), and by living aboard you add in the variable of your life. Do you date crazy people? Are you addicted to crystal meth? Do you have loud parties?

The marina managers don't know you, and if you're a crazy person, they get to deal with your problems. And it's just not worth the extra $200/month (or whatever liveaboard charge they're putting out). Now most people at this point say "but I'm not crazy!". Sure, you're probably not. But the marina manager on the phone doesn't know that. You could be calling her with a gun in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey in the other.

#2. The 10% thing is a guideline, not a rule.

Sometimes you'll hear people say that marinas can only have 10% of their slips as liveaboards. Not true. If they wanted to they could make them 100%, or 0%. Totally at their discretion. The guideline is 10%.

#3. Your best bet is to park the boat in a marina, and then lobby for liveaboard status.

This way you get a chance for the people to get to know you, and for you to get to know them. It's like moving into a neighborhood. A very selective neighborhood. This might be difficult for you, but it's seriously the best bet. If you're planning on living on a boat anyway, rent some cheap room in town for a few hundred bucks a month. Whatever it is, it will certainly be bigger than your boat, so you can't blame size as the reason for not doing it.

Once you get to know some of the people on the waterfront (it will take a while), doors will open.

#4. The "lists" you end up on are very subjective.

Let's say you call up and end up 3rd on a list. It could be for anything, as you will learn there are many lists. But we'll just focus on the liveaboard list. When a spot becomes available, the manager might be looking at two jerks ahead of you, and then there's you. You've got your boat in the marina, you're a cool person (or family). You're the kind of person people want to have around. Poof walla, somehow you jumped to first on the list. Shaved years off.

Fair? No. But it's also not fair for me to have to live next to some crazy person. So if there's a subjective and somewhat arbitrary system in process to keep crazies away from me, I'm cool with that. If you're really planning on taking a boat around the world or going long time cruising, you'll figure out a way to get your liveaboard status. If you're just a flash in the pan, you'll fizzle out and free up the space for someone with more motivation.

This might sound harsh, and it is to some extent. But it's worth it. There's limited space in the harbor, so the rules are different than in an apartment complex.


harbor sidewalk

Some of you might have lawns to walk past when you walk away from your home in the morning. Not us. You'll notice the yellowtail tuna scattered around the sidewalk, pools of fish blood, and odd looking fish buyers walking around.

Yep, that's our neighborhood.


July 4 2008: meet Lucky

Lucky. Very lucky.
We're pretty sure her name isn't Lucky, but she's a very lucky dog regardless. Charlotte and I were watching the fireworks over San Diego Harbor from our cockpit, and she saw what looked like a seal swimming through the water. But then she noticed the seal had ears, and said "That looks like a dog."

I ran over a couple of boats down, and after a few failed attempts, managed to drag her out of the water. We hosed her down with fresh water (to get the salt off of her), put Bactine on her paws (she ripped them bloody on the barnacles), and she's now sleeping in the cockpit sole with some beach towels.

She's a great little dog, and I'm sure her owner(s) will come looking for her shortly. In the mean time, Calypso is very interested in who this new crew member is.

Our guess is that the fireworks made her jump off a boat over in the mooring field, and she swam at least the 150 yards to the marina, although it's probably more. She's lucky that she didn't drown, get hypothermia, or get struck by any one of the probably-drunk boaters in America's Cup Harbor here.