Showing posts with label tartan 4000. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tartan 4000. Show all posts

11 March 2020

WIFI Aboard: The Network that NotWorked, Works Again

One of the earliest projects we did on Argon was to install a Wifi network. It consisted of a Ubiquity Bullet m2 Titanium Radio/Router and a Microtik Wireless Access Point. It was our "ArgonAfloat" Wifi network and served us very well. After six years of baking in the sun and freezing in (some) winters - not to mention operating in a salt-air environment, the Bullet finally bit the dust in February while in Anguilla.

Capt. Bob

We considered several options, but at the time finally decided to just do nothing. On this cruise, we rely primarily on mobile data and that will be especially true for the last leg through the Bahamas before we return to the states.

Red Line is what we've covered. Yellow is still to go!
With a stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico scheduled before our passage to southern Bahamas, we re-considered if we should replace the gear and get something shipped in. Once again we considered a few options:
  • Just get another bullet (about a hundred bucks plus shipping)
  • Get a Halo Redport system (about 400 bucks plus shipping)
  • Get a Rogue Wave Dual-Band Pro and MBR550 Router with SIM card (about two grand)
You can probably tell by the additional details in one of those lines, which one I did. We got the Cadillac system - Wave Wifi stuff from Defender in CT. They shipped it to the Marina a few days ahead of when we arrived and it was all here waiting for us.

Why The Splurge?  

We both work extensively from the boat, so connectivity is very important. The Bullet m2 always worked well, but it is complex to configure and tricky to debug issues with. Also, the old m2 version we had would only see 2.4GHz Wifi. Many times, we could see SSIDs from our laptops down below that the bullet couldn't see up on the radar mast! The Halo system also only works on 2.4GHz systems.

Removing the dead Bullet Radio in Anguilla

Wave Wifi makes high-end turn-key systems which are installed on private and charter yachts of all sizes. They offer the DB (dual band) Pro radio which will work with 2.4 and 5 GHz systems. And they have their own brand of "marine-grade" routers/access points: the MBR500 and MBR550.  The difference between these two (besides about $350) is that the 550 has a SIM slot in it and two high-gain Cellular Antennas. Interesting.

We normally buy two of whatever the local SIM card is and stick them in two different phones. Going forward, we have the option of sticking one in the SIM slot on the router and having that serve our main network. I can remember a few times in the Bahamas a couple of years ago where the BTC mobile signal was a bit weak. Perhaps having the BTC SIM in the router with those fancy Cellular Antennas will give us an edge - we'll see next month. We will have to configure the APN and other parameters for each SIM. I think the trick will be to get them to configure the card in a phone at the store and then use that phone to see which APN to use.  It should work.

The one disadvantage of serving up Mobile Data over our primary network is that we will now need to set the primary network as a Metered network on all of our devices. In the past, it was assumed that if our primary network was working, it was connected to some bar or restaurant near the anchorage. Now, we have to beware that it might be backed by expensive and limited mobile data. Windows10 and Android devices allow setting individual Wifi networks as Metered and as such, will not do super-high-bandwidth nonsense over them.


SIM Included

They do include a T-Mobile SIM and offer several insanely expensive monthly plans. I saw 50GB for $350 and ran screaming. I left it in the SIM slot for now just to prove that it works.  Later, we will be sticking local pre-paid SIMs in here and crossing our fingers.


More Benefits

The MBR550 has a series of ports that can work in a fail-over sequence.  Out of the box it is configured like this and they even name the ports to make it obvious. Previously, we used a separate router (a cheap tp-link) on our Satellite Terminal for offshore passages. Now, the sat terminal will just plug directly into our primary router and it will automatically fail over to it if the Wifi and Cellular data are down. Simple. Additionally, they provide a means to limit the data on each port. I have set the Satellite port limit to 5MB per day. That will avoid a nasty and expensive "accident" when offshore like we've had in the past. The Satellite data is $10/MB and only used for short text emails, GRIBs and to upload our Track underway for those playing along at home.

The Failover config screen. Wifi first, then SIM then Sat


The hard part of the install was actually done years ago when we installed the original Bullet/Microtik system. All the power and ethernet wiring that was done then will work now. Both the old and new radio get power over ethernet (POE). The Wave Pro DB came with a shiny new POE injector (this one with LEDs on it), so I swapped in the new one (because I like shiny things).

The Pro DB radio in hand and the MB550 and new POE mounted inside.

Bit of a mess during the install.
The Pro DB with spacers ready to be clamped to the radar mast.
Mounted and wired in. The Fleet One Satellite terminal now feeds a port on our primary router (white wire).

A bit of a stretch and balancing act.

And done!

The Review

Don't you hate those Amazon reviews where someone reviews something after owning it for only a couple days?  Well, I'm about to do the same.

It was incredibly easy to set up. The paper instructions included were not so great but I downloaded the manual (and of course put it in dropbox with all the other ship's manuals). One thing that is buried a bit is that you can configure it by connecting to it wirelessly instead of plugging in an ethernet cable as the instructions say. The trick is that the initial password is MBR550's serial number. That said, there is not much config to do. The router allows you to require logins for your users and can even redirect them to a disclaimer page. This is probably a very popular feature on charter boats and large yachts with lots of guests coming and going.

Product placement.

I've been using it for work for several days. The Pro DB is connected to the Club Nautico Guest Wifi here at the marina in San Juan. As is often the case with marinas, the Wifi is horrible at times and not so bad other times. This marina has a 2.4 and a 5GHz guest Access point. While the 2.4 is a slightly stronger signal, I've been having much better luck on the 5 (lately).  It's nice to have the option now.

The physical mounting of the MBR550 router is much nicer than the old Microtik A/P.  It has tabbed legs with screw holes and the footprint is a bit smaller.  I mounted it inside our nav table pod with the Sim slot facing forward.

The Pro DB radio feels very rugged and heavy. It has a standard antenna mount threaded base, however we are not using that yet. I'm doing the hose-clamps to a stainless rail method of mounting for now. Perhaps a winter project will be to add a threaded base to the Edson wing and run the wire up inside it. A nice touch is that when the Pro DB gets power, it makes a quiet bootup sound - like a rapid series of clicks. It's nice feedback to let you know that your POE is working all the way to it.  Like the bullet, there are no LED indicators of power or signal.

Another advantage over the Bullet is that anything the Pro DB connects to can be saved as a Favorite. Come back next year and it will connect - so long as they haven't changed the password which is often the case. The bullet had no such memory so it required another trip to the bar to harvest a password.

Speaking of harvesting passwords, this brings me to one thing that was nicer in the Bullet. The Site Scan Survey results screen for the Bullet was a nice tight table of SSIDs and signal strength. One could sort by signal strength, take a screenshot of that on your phone and go ashore to harvest passwords. The UI in the Wave Scan screen is modern and pretty, but it spreads the list of Access Points it sees over several pages. It will now require several screenshots to capture it all - especially when there are many access points around (most of which are from other boats).

Boo - a phone screenshot only fits four Access Points in this "pretty" UI. Give me the simple text table from the Bullet please!
Something that I have not figured out how to do (or if it can be done) is to change how the Pro DB appears to the access point it is connected to. In the old Bullet configuration, I had us showing up as "Bill's iPhone". This was mainly done because some restaurants/bars in certain places are very protective of their Wifi passcodes and insist on typing them into your phone instead of telling them to you. We would use our superior technology to thwart that, but then we didn't want to appear as "Bullet m2" in their router connected user list (if they ever look). I have a feeling that we show up as "Wave... something or other" now and I don't yet know how to change that.

There is a Bug (or feature) I've run into with regards to Favorites. I had both the 2.4 and 5GHz SSIDs saved as favorites. I deleted one Favorite and... it deleted both of them. Can I put this in Jira?

Time To Get Back To Work, And Play

We're spending a few more days in San Juan and will wait on a window to make a 460 nautical mile (3+ day) passage to Grand Inagua in the southern Bahamas. Besides this little project, we have gotten several other things done on the boat including some bright work. The Bahamas will be a test for the Cellular Data capabilities of the MBR550. Between that, a second BTC local SIM card in a phone and Google FI, we hope to stay well connected most of the time.

In the meantime, we're enjoying San Juan and even dressing up a bit for nights out!

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.

07 July 2017

Our Caribbean Cruise in Stats, Graphs and Tables: Finances, Fuel, Feuds and Fishing

Ten months, 5000nm, 18 countries, 80 harbors. One broken collar bone, clogged head and seized up water pump. Hundreds of cruising friends met. Below are some more data and figures of our extended cruise.

Captain Linda Perry Riera


Back in Boston

As I write this post, we are overlooking the Boston skyline from a favorite anchoring spot, Peddocks Island, part of Boston Harbor Island National Park. We will sail the short hop to Constitution Marina tomorrow which was our departure point ten glorious months ago. This trip as been an unbelievable adventure in so many ways. Below are some of the analytic aspects of our voyage.

Argon's grand loop:  5000nm (5754 statute miles), 15 countries, approximately 80 harbors.

Boston skyline from the anchorage at Peddocks Island last night. A fitting time to reflect as we return to our starting point.

Many Wonder, Few Ask:  How much does a trip like this cost?

There is a range of how to approach an extended cruise from a lifestyle and thus financial perspective and scant specific information out there. During our planning phase I would read Beth Leonard's The Voyagers Handbook in the evenings (while sprawling on my king sized bed... oooohh, to sleep on a big bed again; I digress). Beth's book is a wonderful resource for learning about passage planning, watch keeping, anchoring, sail handling, living aboard, etc. A particularly interesting section is devoted to finances and is highly recommended for anyone considering an extended cruise. Below is an estimation of our monthly and total spend.

Disclaimer: We started off with an extremely ready, sea worthy vessels (and lots of up front investment in to it). Many cruisers we met along the way had older vessels and needed to spend more time and money fixing things along the way. 

Several prior blog posts outline some of our preparations prior to last September:

Our monthly burn rate was a bit higher than we initially forecasted mainly driven by:
  • Data / connectivity.  See blog post Data While Cruising  Note: Our (aka Bob's) need for data due to his job is definitely way more than that of the average cruiser. And we have accumulated half a terabyte of photos and videos to upload.
  • Eating out.  One can certainly spend less by cooking aboard vs eating out as much as we did. But we enjoy experiencing the islands by visiting lots of different restaurants and eateries. 
  • Trips. The visits with the boys were fantastic and I am very grateful for the special time with them in gorgeous locations. In hindsight, we would have chosen less expensive locales. Two of the three countries we selected for visits were extremely expensive: Bermuda and Turks & Caicos.
  • Docking more than planned (vs. anchoring which is free).  Dock fees would vary widely from $40 to $160 per night. (The lower priced docks were only basic tie ups with no electricity or water.) Sometimes we docked to be more secure in high winds, or to be able to get shore power to run the air conditioner a bit (to dry out the boat even more so than to cool it), and to give Argon an occasional good exterior washing. We extended dock time in St. Maarten to give Bob's collar bone some time to heal and in TCI due to bad weather and waiting for boat parts.

Some added notes about spending

Boat insurance - Many cruisers deem this optional or too expensive and opt out. Some marinas require insurance for dockage. I suspect shipyards will also require if a haul out is needed. Our insurance premium was quite high due to our scant off shore experience prior to the trip and the associated dangers with the long off shore passages (and shorthanded crew). In the future, our premiums should be less as our experience is now much more robust.
Medical insurance - Many cruisers are a bit older than we are and seem to have medical insurance either through their retirement package and/or Medicare (if US) or national insurance, of course, if from outside the US. We both purchased private, basic policies through the healthcare exchange last year and planned to mostly pay out of pocket for minor needs.


  • Bob continued working remotely throughout the trip, more than planned at about 20-30 hours per week which was good to help address the ad hoc hits and lessen the savings drain.
  • I had put aside $40K from my savings prior to the trip. This is gone; time for me to get back to work I guess. (I left my job July 2016.)
  • YouTube sailing channel and ad revenue from blog:  Well, we are not popular enough to make more than a couple of dollars a month here... yet. 
Bob continued his software engineering on the high seas and anchored in harbors. The work sometimes took him away from land exploration but provided nice income to off set expenses. I immensely enjoyed the freedom from paid work for a while (although the paycheck is missed).


Cost of Cruising vs. Cost of Living on Land

This is a discussion Bob and I have had several times when we estimate the cost of this trip. The above representation does not compare the expenses of living on land in a house and weekend boating expenses to the cost of living aboard and setting off on an extended cruise. Many of the expenses above would have been incurred even if we had not been cruising (groceries, eating out, boat parts, cell phones as well as many of the boat related expenses). In addition, we have not been spending money for a year or more on the following:
  • personal cars and associated insurance, maintenance, gas, repairs
  • home mortgage, taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs
  • accumulating stuff to fill and replenish home
  • summer dock slip, winter haul out and storage
I guess one might be able to rationalize that we saved money on this trip. :-)

Although $68K sounds like a lot, this was our total expenditure for 10 months of living. Intense living filled with unique adventure, travel, challenge and beauty. It was worth every penny.


There are a few reasons why most long distance cruisers are in sailboats, not power boats:  (1) sea steadiness / handling in big waters, (2) cost of fuel, and (3) travel distance with available fuel. We strive to sail as much as possible but firing up the diesel is necessary when winds have died as well as for motoring in to and out of harbors. In addition, the alternator on the diesel engine will charge our batteries when the solar panels can not keep up such as when we were in higher latitudes (last fall) and when there were extended periods of overcast. We consumed 270 gallons of diesel overall.

We track the diesel consumption rate to ensure we know our range on a tank of fuel:

The fuel consumption rate is generally about 0.8-0.9 gal/hour when we are motoring in to and out of harbors and in transit due to low wind. The rate was lower around November when we were in Bermuda and having to run the engine a bit just to charge the batteries as the low, late season sun was not quite sufficient for our solar panels.

At 0.8 gal/hour we can run the diesel for 96 hours. Depending on conditions, this would yield a range of about 675nm. This is important to know for the extended off shore trips should the need arise to motor substantially.

Our most efficient trip may have been from Hampton, VA to Bermuda 650nm (748miles) using only about 0.6 gallons diesel which translates to 2,247 miles/gal (I'm feeling very green). However, total gallons consumed these past ten months were 270 which for a 5000nm (5753mile) trip translates to 21 miles/gallon. Diesel price ranged from a high of $7.91/gal in Antigua to lows around $2.60 in North Carolina. Our total spend was about $850 on diesel and about $50 on gasoline for the dinghy. Other than renting a car a few times, we had no automobile expenses this past year.

Feuds and Fights

Bob = introvert, Mr Fix It, keen attention to detail and safety, anxiety prone
Linda = extrovert, big picture, optimistic, not anxious enough
Both = love sailing, Argon, and each other

As friends have commented, Bob and I most definitely find our chi best when sailing. However, there have been a few times during this trip when we butted heads and both wanted nothing more than to get away from each other. Two of these times we were kind of stuck on the boat and I was unable to easily stomp off and away. Argon feels very tiny at times.

We still like each other.


Our early fishing success was attributed to Smitty, our third crew person for the six day Bermuda to Antigua passage. This would be followed by a couple of months of being skunked before starting to get hits and bring in fish starting around the waters of Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and throughout the Bahamas. The graph below represents mahi, wahoo and barracuda that we landed on the boat (but did not necessarily keep and clean). There were several additional mahi that we came close to landing but lost. It is customary not to eat barracuda in particular as they can be infected with ciguatera so we carefully plied out the lure and threw these mean guys back.

Fishing success kicked in around February.

Mahi mahi caught in Bahamian waters.
We stretched fresh mahi for several days across many meals. Yum!
We switched to using a hand reel instead of a traditional poles in the Bahamas.

Another Project Management Spreadsheet

We lived by a multi tab spreadsheet the 18 or so months prior to our trip to help us organize the many things to do, to buy and to learn. Now we have started a new log of projects to tackle this winter complete with cost estimates, due dates, and completion statuses. Below are a few items on the list.
  • Upgrades: Reacher fairlead car adjusters, rope clutch replacement (started recently in Mystic), add solar panel (Solbian 50W) and controller - this will increase our (theoretical) power generation from 335 to 385, solar panel controller upgrade, DC to DC converter, aft cabin shelves, nav station instrument, top down furler for spinnaker (not sure), ground tackle (increase from 100 to 150 feet of chain), compass light re-wiring to separate breaker, etc.
  • Maintenance and replacements: Sails (main, jib, genoa) washed, inspected and repaired; Canvas cleaned and treated, new sail cover, brightwork (teak cap rails, cockpit table, dorade box covers, etc), interior floor varnishing, dinghy outboard servicing, dinghy cleaning and proactive patching, kitchen faucet (done), head hoses (yuk), move stern light, goose neck inspection and new bolts, etc. 
But wait, it's still only early July! We have the rest of the summer to spend enjoying the cold (but warming) New England waters. So not to much attention to this spreadsheet just yet!

Argon returning to Mass Bay via the familiar Cape Cod Canal.

22 February 2017

Where is Home?

Recently I left the warmth and sunshine of our cozy harbor in the Caribbean to fly back to the frigid northeast.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

In conversation with my Bostonian friends, I found myself responding to questions with "...I will fly back home Thursday", or "It's been a great visit but I look forward to returning home". It dawned on me that despite living happily in Boston for nearly 12 years, it is not really home anymore. Home is now wherever Argon is.

Antigua home

Montserrat home

Saba home

Les Saintes home

Virgin Gorda home

St. John home

It has been two years since we sold the house, purged most of our possessions, and moved aboard Argon. Some of our preparations and process of downsizing our lifestyle is chronicled in a prior blog post, The Three Year Plan. We were proud to have retained only one small 6x10 storage locker but now we know that most of what was saved in that small space was not necessary.

Moving on to Argon in Boston 18 months prior to departing for our trip allowed us to focus on preparations. The warm months were much more fun than winter. Our home during this time was located at a slip on D dock and our neighborhood was Constitution Marina.
Pulling our home away from home 6 months ago at the onset of this one year trip.

I love our presumably impermanent semi-nomadic cruising lifestyle jumping among Caribbean harbors, islands and countries frequently... often deciding day by day where we will go tomorrow (this has been a much needed contradiction to my type A personality). Figuring out where (or if) to go, how to get there, and what are the options once there is part of my regular routine. However, driving around the familiar streets of Arlington, Lexington, Boston, and North Reading recently felt, well, comfortable. And easy. I forgot how relaxing it can be to not have to constantly study maps (or charts), to know where to arrange to meet up with a friend for a nice dinner, or pick up fresh produce. Being able to visit with my son for long or short visits, scheduled or ad hoc, across several days was heaven. Having WiFi or mobile data all the time. To have a car. Catching up with many friends over coffee, wine, or just chatter filled my yearning to keep these relationships alive. I guess my recent time back in Boston was just... normal. Do I want normal or do I want adventure?

When a nor'easter came roaring in just as I was scheduled to fly back home (which at that time was Soper's Hole, Tortola) and delayed my return, I enjoyed an additional day with a dear friend as we curled up on her sofa watching and discussing movies as the snow and wind whipped outside.

Back Home on Argon

  • How long will we have this mobile, floating home?
  • When will we have a conventional land dwelling again? Where will it be?
  • Do we return to our lives before later this year as scheduled with a land house and crazy jobs?

Although there are still many months ahead for this sailing trip, I find myself pondering these questions frequently. Argon's track is generally (and somewhat hesitantly) northward these days as we weave through the British, US, and Spanish Virgin Islands, and soon off shore to Turks and Caicos, then on to the Bahamas. Then back stateside. I will keep considering these questions... but not too much just yet.

Recent view from the family room (aka cockpit) at anchor.
Pre-dinner evening stroll around the neighborhood. I was probably pondering the questions above a bit while paddling. But not too much.