28 November 2019

Working Day Jobs While Cruising

Unlike most long distance cruisers, we have retained day jobs while sailing. The cadence of our days is a bit different from many of the other sailors around us as we plan our boat projects/maintenance, land excursions, and sailing schedule very much around work commitments and the ability to secure reliable internet.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

What Do We Do?

Linda:  Clinical Operations and Clinical Research Scientist

When on land manages studies for investigational drugs for rare and neurological diseases in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. When cruising cannot (and does not want to) be available to the extent needed to do this work well. Therefore shifts to document writing (e.g., standard operating procedures) and document review (e.g., study protocols) related to clinical research when cruising (about 10 hours/week).

Bob: Software Engineer

Primarily hands on coding in support of the internal business processes for a corporate travel and technology management company based in Massachusetts, USA. Able to do the same type of work when living on land or a nomadic aquatic lifestyle (but decreases to 25-30 hours/week when cruising).

Typical Daily / Weekly Schedule

The pattern of our lives maintains a Monday through Friday cadence centered around day jobs, as when living on land, followed by a change of pace on the weekend. However, we enjoy more flexibility than when we are working full time on land. A typical midweek schedule is:

5:15 Alarm goes off, perhaps a snooze or two.
5:45 Bob is working. Linda makes coffee and takes in the sunrise from the cockpit; reads.
7:30 Linda goes for a long exercise swim (if anchorage is safe). Bob continues working. Both bathe off transom followed by a quick cockpit freshwater rinse.
9:00 Linda begins working. Bob continues working.
11:00 Bob does some boat projects.
Linda jumps in the dinghy and goes ashore; walks to a bus stop, finds a couple of markets, buys only what can be comfortably carried back.
14:00 Both jump in the water to cool off, scrub the bottom of the dinghy or water line of Argon while in the water.
15:00 Dinghy back ashore to work somewhere that laptops can be powered (so we do not drain Argon's batteries too much) and with free WiFi (to ease off on our usage of paid data).
While access to free WiFi may update apps, download podcasts, books, videos, do life logistics on line (personal emails, studying weather and where to sail to next, reading articles).
17:00 Dinghy back to Argon. Do some boat tinkering. Cook dinner.
19:00 Final swim off transom to cool off. Relax in the cockpit.
20:00 Last check back in to work. In bed reading, listening to a podcast, or watching a downloaded video. 
21:00 Usually asleep.

Of course the above is just an example. There are all sorts of permutations including sometimes getting on to land for part of a day to hike or explore, but that is normally reserved for the weekend. Or a significant boat issue may need attention. And, when we are actually sailing, there is time to prep the boat to weigh anchor, then perhaps several hours or most of a day or more actually sailing to the next harbor or island which is sometimes done midweek depending on work commitments. If the new island is in a different country there is quite a bit of added time to check out of customs & immigration of the departing country, and then check in to the new country.

Once re-anchored, there is a myriad of small items to attend to that have become quite routine including organizing lines, covering the main sail, deploying the dinghy from the davits, snorkeling on the anchor to check the hold, setting up the forward hatch awning, monitoring the swing on the anchor (and re-setting if needed). And, critical for our day jobs, confirming data / reception and connecting to WiFi (see below) so we can get back to work.

Ultimate in Open Office Design and Flexible Workspace

Argon is mostly at anchor while we are cruising and we spend much of our workday on board. However, we regularly get to shore seeking free WiFi and to couple working with some land errands, or just for a change of scenery.

Below are photos of some of the places we set up shop for our day jobs while cruising.

Linda's favorite workspace:  Argon's cockpit in a breezy, beautiful harbor while at anchor.

Most common workspace: On board Argon in the salon.
Although working at home (on board Argon) is often easiest, it can be difficult to stay comfortable. Temperatures in the salon are often in the high 80's or low 90's.

This on shore workspace has everything: Breezy restaurant with access to power, free WiFi, cool beverages and feathery company (perhaps he's someone's dinner).

Finding shelter from a downpour. (Bob is on a teleconference.)

Modern coffee shop with not only power, WiFi and great lattes, but also the rare air conditioning!

Tiki Bar restaurant Prickly Bay, Grenada. Lots of power outlets but non-ideal due to music playing and/or TV on.

Bermuda. Another great find: comfort, power outlets, WiFi, air conditioning and quiet!

In the cockpit of Argon early in the morning, Grenada.

Porch in St. Lucia with a lovely vista.

Corner office on the Dutch island of Saba.

At anchor somewhere in the US Virgin Islands.

Turks and Caicos.

Turks and Caicos. Overcast to allow Bob to barely see his screen.

Dominica. Another beautiful view.

Satiating a Voracious Appetite for Data


Our appetite for data is huge compared to any other cruiser we have encountered. We chow down 1-1.5G/day mostly due to our day jobs. Needing this generous amount of data, as well as reliable connectivity daily, have been major challenges. Many people will offer advice related various methods but we usually find out that the thresholds for data usage are way too low for our needs. During our first extended cruise (2016-2017) we learned that WiFi options in anchorages (as well as on shore) are massively unreliable causing tremendous stress as we needed connectivity regularly to deliver on work commitments. We made many data-related mistakes and spent an average of nearly $500/month! A prior blog post outlines our approach and many learnings.

Shroud Cay Exumas, Bahamas back in 2017 during our first cruise. To my dismay, we stayed only a few hours because we had no data and Bob needed to get back on line for work. There were too many times that we skipped over an interesting place or minimized our stay because of data issues.

Our second extended journey 2018-2019 brought improvements all around including decreasing our spend to about $300/month. Our main strategy was an unlocked cell phone (separate from our two regular personal phones) with stripped down apps (to avoid any inadvertent data usage). Then securing local data SIM cards from the current country. Some key challenges included:
  • Sometimes having much difficulty finding or getting to where local SIMs could be purchased (would require a long and expensive cab ride and/or the store had scant business hours, especially on smaller islands)
  • Figuring out how (or remembering to) top off balances before the data ran out (especially difficult in some of the French islands where all info/apps were only in the local language)

Some of our collection of local SIM cards: Chippy (St. Martin and Saba), Orange (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Marie Gallante), French Digicel (Guadeloupe but crazy expensive; Orange is better) and Dominican Digicel. We also have SIMs for Flow (Antigua) and BTC (Bahamas).

Now at the front end of our third extended cruise, we think we've got things figured out. Fingers crossed anyway. Our approach is to combine the local data SIM card method with Google Fi leveraging 4 cell phones now:
  • Bob's personal and Linda's personal (roaming off of course, and settings set to no automatic updates when connected to WiFi... as our WiFi is usually metered)
  • Unlocked stripped down with GoogleFi
  • Unlocked stripped down with local data SIM card - for both data and local phone calls
Having two cell phones to use as hot spots (local SIM and GoogleFi) also allows me to take one with me when I venture to shore while Bob remains aboard. This affords the luxury of connectivity as I do errands or go on land excursions. 

Four unlocked Androids: 2 are our personal phones, the other 2 are for local SIM cards and GoogleFi to serve as hot spots.

GoogleFi is a great option but only up to 15G in a month, then it's less attractive due to the cost:
  • $10/G up to 6G, then free up to 15G. Once 15G is reached, the data speed is slowed waaayyyyy down (unusable for our needs) and it is back to $10/G. 
With our voracious data appetite (35-40G/month), GoogleFi would be well over $300/month. Therefore we aim to keep the GoogleFi data usage to 15G/month with the remaining data from SIM cards and on-shore free WiFi. And GoogleFi has worked well so far but we have only been in Grenada... let's see if it is as reliable as we make our way up the Caribbean chain. A back-up option (or two) is prudent and will surely be needed at some point.

The cost of data through the local SIM cards varies widely from country to country anywhere from $3-$15/G but will often be less expensive than the cost post 15G through GoogleFi, and will provide a back-up method.

Here is one of our cheap Androids with a Digicel and a Flow card.

Thus our monthly data usage and spend is likely to play out as follows:
  • 15G through GoogleFi at $90 (includes direct data cost plus fees)
  • 10G through local data SIM card at $30-$150
  • remaining 10-20G onshore free WiFi
We very much hope to decrease our average data spend to $150/month!! Status report in six months.

Flexibility and Supportive Employers are Paramount


Linda: I converted to an independent consultant in my field of clinical trials and clinical research mid 2017 with the objective of flexing up my work when in land-life mode, and throttling back when we are cruising. It is working out wonderfully thus far. When cruising I work about 10 hours/week on document writing that, while less interesting perhaps, affords much flexibility requiring minimal scheduled meetings/telecons and I can mostly make my own schedule. The more interesting assignments will resume (along with heavier hours) when back on land. 

Bob: Before our first trip to the Caribbean back in 2016, Bob told his boss over dinner one night: "Linda wants to sail to the Caribbean. I can either go with her, or I have to move in with you". That settled it. Bob switched from full-time salaried, to full-time hourly to allow flexing down of hours while traveling (a bit), gave up health insurance and paid time off and has remained in this status with his employer ever since. Bob works 25-30 hours/week while cruising, and full time when on land. Note: We both must buy health insurance privately which is an important financial consideration.

Both:  We take our work very seriously and do our best to not leave our work colleagues waiting on us for anything. We are able to be very productive, and yes, it does cut into the fun part of cruising a bit, but it also makes this wonderful cruising lifestyle possible.

The perfect combination of work, adventure and pleasure.

24 November 2019

Go Up! A Bit More on Grenada

Advice for cruisers, or other travelers, looking to detect the essence of cultures on these islands: go up, venture in.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

It is easy and comfortable to stay in the cruising neighborhoods of the islands. Semi-manicured marinas  and beach fronts with pruned palm trees, restaurants with pizza and wings, activities and socials for cruisers, lots of people that look like me. And although these nooks usually have a sprinkling of culture and evidence of the complex dichotomies that come with island living, we were reminded recently how rich the experience can be when we venture beyond the surface and just walk up the hill.

Anchored Off St. George's

After anchoring in Prickly Bay for the first 9 days after launch and spending much time still working on getting Argon and ourselves ready, we weighed anchor and enjoyed a leisurely short test sail along the southern coast and over near the capital city of Grenada, St. George's.

Simple, luxurious inaugural 8nm sail in very light winds. Enjoyed seeing dozens of turtles, a large sting ray, and even a small shark along the way in the calm, clear waters.

There is an expansive anchorage area just south of the capital of St. George's on the west coast. The holding is precarious as small rocks and dead coral are abundant with surprisingly scant sand and mud for a secure holding. It is not uncommon to have to try a few times to get a good set in this area.

Urban Hike

After enjoying the Hash through a beautiful, rugged, hilly (and muddy) 3 mile hike on the eastern coast recently, Bob proposed we do an urban hike. We had been admiring from afar the bright white pillared Parliament building perched high up above the city of St. George's and decided we would set out for a vigorous climb winding our way through back streets.

The city of St. George's is inviting with it's colorful facade climbing up the mountainside. Upon closer inspection on foot, grit and hardship are evident.

Hillside overlooking St. George's.

View of St. George's from nearby the Parliament building after an invigorating walk up. The anchorage (and Argon) is to the left just out of view off the peninsula.

So many interesting buildings and sites along the way. The infrastructure is good for a poor Caribbean island but extremely meager compared to standards back home. Sidewalks are rare and walking along the road takes much attention and jumping out of the way of vehicles whizzing by. We have learned to carry a flashlight when venturing out late in the day as streetlights are uncommon and the paved terrain is abundant with ditches, holes and other obstacles.

Flowers and produce are commonly sold on the street. My favorites include christophine (aka chayote), papaya, avocado, mango, potatoes and passion fruit.

More street vendors.

Grenadian traffic signal in the capital of St. George's. (There are no electric traffic lights.)

Popular weekend street market downtown St. George's.

Tending to the Tender - With Help from Patrick

While making one of the many lengthy dinghy rides in to the city from the anchorage, we noticed that the raw water cooling had restricted flow (even though the outboard was just serviced this past summer... argh!).

We were no longer near the shipyard where the outboard was recently serviced. But we were able to get connected with a local mechanic, Patrick, to help with figuring out what was causing the restricted raw water flow.

Partially in a torrential downpour, Patrick and I got the outboard to his work boat. Patrick was kind enough to give me a bit of a lesson in outboard servicing.

Replacing the impeller on a Tohatsu 6hp 4 stroke is extremely tricky (much more difficult than on our Volvo 55hp diesel). The crank shaft needs to come off (and, the more difficult part, is getting it back on).

The impeller was changed (although the original one looked good). We also inspected the thermostat which was extremely corroded (removed it - not needed with in the warm water); and cleaned out the area around in-take and outflow. The outboard ideally needs a bit more of an overhaul (including a new base gasket) which we will arrange to have done in the coming weeks further up the island chain.

Beach Bums for an Afternoon

We spend surprisingly little time hanging out at beaches while cruising. However, nearly three weeks after arriving in Grenada, we both enjoy an afternoon at Grand Anse Beach, just south of St. George's. I swam and we both indulged in an afternoon cocktail.

Surprisingly rare beach hang out.

And on to Carriacou, or Not....

We have been itching to start to make our way to the next island north all week but the winds have been uncharacteristically light (and often non-existent). With favorable winds finally forcasted we weighed anchor Sunday morning and, despite rain moving in, happily set sail up along the west coast. After a bit we had to fire up the motor, keeping the main up for some motor sailing, as the wind was light and on our nose when Bob heard a strange loud boing. It was pouring rain but we soon realized that the upper battens along the leech of the sail were hitting the back stay making a loud vibratory plucking noise and shaking the rig. We realized that the roach of the sail was jutting beyond the back stay... not good for the back stay, sail or rig.

Pic of the over-extended roach through the bimini window in a rainstorm. Fingers crossed that the sail maker will be able to quickly re-cut the roach of the new main sail so that we can finally, really, no kidding this time start our journey. We were surprised not to have noticed this the prior week during the initial test sail. But we had been sailing mostly down wind and in hindsight should have headed upwind more and done several test tacks.

After a quick conversation on what to do next, we agree to turn around and head back not to St. George's, but even further to Pricky Bay near where the sail maker is located. Ugh. Back where we began several weeks ago. But this is not a bad place to be stuck.

16 November 2019

Grenada - Better the Second Time Around

Watching a dramatic daybreak cloud system approach, it dawns on me how much different our Grenadian experience is currently compared to our initial introduction this past April.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

We recently returned to Grenada to re-launch s/v Argon and resume cruising the Caribbean for another winter gradually making our way north over the next seven months. Our first exposure to Grenada (April 2019) was heavily shadowed by a crippling bought of sciatica that caused Bob immense pain, severely limiting activities, and greatly complicating boat life for both of us. This time around, however, our experience and outlook is much improved.

Perhaps surprisingly, we set an alarm for 5:15a.m. each day allowing us to take in the quiet opening of each day, enjoy spectacular sunrises, and get an early start on our day jobs and boat projects.
The major boat projects are now behind us and we can start to think about sailing and intermingling our days with land excursions and sometimes relaxation.

Before and After

It has been an incredibly busy and productive two weeks with Argon...

Now:  Argon sitting pretty and ready to sail.

Before:  Ten days ago the boom still not attached, gooseneck unfinished, and oh so much still to do.

After:  Deck today happily at anchor with all sails and lines rigged ready to go.

Before:  Salon ten days ago when we were still in the throws of inspecting, cleaning, fixing, attaching and sweating on the hard.

After:  Salon now ready to be home again for the next many months

Before:  Cockpit ten days ago with grey mildewy teak from being exposed to the heat and torential rains all summer.
After:  Cockpit now with organized lines, clean teak, comfortable cushions and shade.

Prickly Bay

Prickly Bay, one of the several options of harbors along the southern coast of Grenada, is our initial Grenadian neighborhood. Many avoid this anchorage as it can be quite rolly compared to the other nearby choices. However, our threshold for rolliness has increased over the years. In addition, we need the easy access to the shipyard, chandlery, and other businesses as we complete remaining boat projects. Lastly, the waters here are more clear and safe for my morning swims.

Turbulence sail loft is a short dinghy ride away from our initial anchorage. Turbulence is working on our main sail here to shorten the luff length.

Prickly Bay is good for my morning swims. My bright orange buoy provides some visibility for the occasional dinghy that zips through. I make my way over to Calabash Beach to spend most of my swim in the safety parallel of the beach.

Sand Bar at Calabash Beach, Prickly Bay is a beautiful spot to relax enjoy the sunset after a full day of boat projects; oh, and our regular jobs. Argon is anchored in the background.

Boat Projects Continue (always)

A new Doyle main sail through Turbulence was made over the summer in Barbados. However, as outlined in the last blog post, the luff was too long for the track. After the second re-cut, we try again.

Bob transports the new re-re-cut main sail to Argon late in the evening. We wait for daylight to test fit.

Early the next morning, with fortuitous timing just before a squall comes through, we bend the new main sail... And she fits beautifully - we can hardly wait to test her out!

Rationing Power, Seeking Shade

Our first week at anchorage was sans bimini which meant modest solar power and no shade in the cockpit. The winds have also been uncharacteristically low (often non-existent). During the day the temperature below deck is usually 92F; at night we dip down to 82F. Sleeping has been uncomfortable but should improve as winds pick up and we inch our way to higher latitudes. Frequent dips off the swim platform help (but the water is 84F).

The completed bimini was worth the wait and the several dinghy shuttles with our friends from Tropical Sails and Canvas. Douglas and team did a fantastic job with the somewhat complicated bimini making improvements to how the solar side panels are attached. After cleaning all the connectors and getting all the full 385 Watts of panels mounted, we are able to bring in 20amps midday to keep our lap tops charged and refrigerator cool. We can now comfortably sit in the shaded cockpit and perhaps even soon have ice. Life is good!

Improvising with catching solar until our new bimini is finished and the panels can be properly attached. The low wind has had an upside in that the panels are at less risk of blowing away.

A shadeless cockpit the first week at anchor. Douglas and Brian from Tropical Sails and Canvas are ensuring a perfect fit on the frame and for the mounting of the solar panels.

Final bimini project was worth the wait. Douglas and team at Tropical Sails and Canvas did fantastic work on this somewhat complicated piece including altering how the solar and side panels are attached and the wires protected from UV.

Grenadian Hash

A popular activity in Grenada is a Hash which is a sort of athletic / social / eating / drinking event that takes place at a different location on the island each time. We were unable to participate in one last spring due to Bob's convalescing but happily joined one recently. This event took place in Crochu on the eastern coast. At the end of the trek everyone celebrates with blaring soca music, food and beer.

More than one hundred people participated in the Hash. This is the beginning part of the walkers trail.

Some beautiful scenery along the three mile route. (Bob is holding his back... we learned that he still needs to be careful with his sciatica. We took it slowly.)

Crossing a stream.

Overlooking the eastern coast and the Atlantic Ocean.

Part of the route through a rural residential neighborhood along the mountainous coast.

St. George's Market and Provisioning

Each Friday and Saturday downtown St. George's bursts with activity and color as vendors set up produce stands, sell trinkets, and entice customers with local spices attracting both locals and tourists. I introduced Bob to a smoothie shop discoverd last April and we could not get enough of the papaya-mango-banana icy cool sweetness.

Hill leading down to the street market in St. George's.

Old building in downtown St. George's.

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church at the top of the hill in St. George's. It was mostly destroyed during hurricane Ivan in 2004 (the most recent hurricane to hit Grenada).

Provisioning the boat from scratch is a bit of an expensive ordeal and multi-step logistical challenge. I have taken a bus to a supermarket but am limited in the amount purchased by how much I can carry to/from the bus stops. A few miscellaneous items can be found from tiny markets that we walk by on our way to restaurants or other places by foot. Some items such as ultra pasteurized boxed milk, soda water, diet coke, and Carib beer can be purchased in bulk, picked up nearby on shore and loaded in to the dinghy. The St. George Market is difficult to get to but a great source of both local and shipped in produce. When we eventually get to Martinique (late December), more substantial provisioning can be done as the selection and prices will be much better.

Cooking Class

 Ester and Omega share Grenadian cooking secrets at Dodgy Dock in True Blue Harbor - about a 20 minute walk from where we are anchored in Prickly Bay. Time to finally buy some salt fish.


Soon we will depart Grenada on a modest 35nm sail northeast to Carriacou, still part of the country of Grenada but a much smaller island with a population of 8,000 (vs 100,000 on the mainland). In Carriacou we will host our son Christian and his girlfriend Brittany as they sail with us along the chain of islands in the Grenadines.

Happy to be on the water even if still just at anchor as we work on completing final boat projects in preparation to begin sailing soon!

Grenada is definitely better second time around!