Yes, you read that right! After almost 6 months, we are finally cruising again!
After watching the weather carefully, we decided to head out of Baltimore on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Even though there was wind predicted, we wanted to get as far north as we can, which would give us more options for making our way to New York. We left relatively early and had a fairly easy cruise for the remainder of the Chesapeake, the C&D canal, and the first quarter of the Delaware River. However, as predicted, the wind started picking up as we approached the widening part of the bay, and so we followed our plan (bail early) rather than trying to push further down the bay into worsening conditions. We pulled in to a small river on the north side of the bay (Cohansey River) and dropped anchor, staying pinned to the west of it with 25kt winds until the sun went down. At first we were all alone in this anchorage and enjoyed a lovely sunset for our first time on the hook in so long!
Just before sunset a sail boat came down the river and anchored a few bends away from us. They captured this shot of us as they were cruising by and sent it to David!
Some wind was expected the next day, but we decided to head out because we had a few options. Though we were ideally aiming for Atlantic City – which is part ways up the New Jersey Coast, we knew that if everything was terrible, we could cut inside into Cape May at the tip of the Delaware River and hang out there in the protected bay, or try to work our way up the NJICW. Rounding Cape May and heading into open waters, the ride was uncomfortable, but not our worst open water by any means, and we arrived in Atlantic City around 2pm. We would have actually kept going — conditions were pretty decent — but we have caught up to a number of Looper boats who are making there way north as well, including a friend of ours, Steve Olsson, from MBYC who is Looping this year! He is with several other buddy boats and we made plans to meet them later for drinks.
First, we headed up to the Marina/Casino’s rooftop pool/hot tub to relax a bit, and then got fancy and went out to a nice dinner.
Looking at the forecast for the next day, David saw that it was predicted to be calm in the morning, with winds picking up in the early afternoon and then blowing for several days after that. Knowing that this would be our only chance for a bit, we decided to wake up before sunrise and head north. We would go on plane, as fast as we could, and aim to arrive at Sandy Hook before the weather turned.
The cruise turned out to be incredibly smooth with no issues, but as predicted, just as we were rounding the corner at Sandy Hook the winds went from 10 kts to 30 kts in almost an instant. What had previously been smooth water filled with white caps. Luckily we were only half an hour from our destination. We arrived at Great Kills Harbor and managed to hook a mooring, despite 25 kts of wind on the nose even in the protected bay. Steve and his companions were a few hours behind us as they cruise at slower speeds and had a rough additional 2.5 hrs cruising in those high winds, unfortunately breaking several things on their boats in the bad conditions. But we made it up to the New York Harbor!
After we returned to Baltimore from Disney, we did have a few boat projects to get wrapped up with. Primarily, re-fixing the hydraulic swim platform where our dingy sits. If you recall, when Brent and Mary visited us over the summer, we had a bit of a disaster on their last day where the hydraulic failed. We managed to get both arms to a repair shop, but after replacing the supposedly-rebuilt parts, one of the arms started making a whale-song as we were lowering the platform. It had been doing this all summer, but still seemed to work. David placed an order from the platform’s manufacturer for a new one, so that we’d have a spare, but otherwise went on our way. Over the winter in Baltimore, we noticed the platform was slowly sinking again. The job to take out the arms is quite challenging and involves getting a bit wet, so we really didn’t want to do the project in the freezing cold weather. After we returned from Florida, the weather was much nicer, and we really couldn’t avoid the fact that the arms were simply failing again. David found a local hydraulic shop that had some time on their schedule and went ahead with removing them and sending them off for another rebuild.
David also worked on a project to replace one of our toilets – the one in the master bedroom seemed to have lost its seal and we didn’t want to be dealing with a dead toilet while in more remote areas in Canada.
Meanwhile, I took the opportunity for the few extra weeks that we were there to attend a bunch more classes at the Baltimore pole studio – yay! I kept letting my new friends there know – this might be the last time that I see you…and then I’d show up again the next week :).
On one of the weekends, we hopped in the dingy and followed Russ and Jax to a fish and chip restaurant a couple of (nautical) miles from the marina. We had forgotten that it was Mother’s Day weekend, and since the weather was nice, the place was packed, but we did get a spot at the bar and had a nice lunch.
I also got to work on a project to find a way to build my pole on the front of the boat so that even when we’re on anchor this summer I will be able to train. We purchased some bed/furniture risers and I used power tools (gasp!) to make them fit around the pole legs. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to use it soon!
We also met some of Russ and Jax’s friends who will also be cruising the Triangle Loop with us this summer and did a trivia night at the local tap house across the street from the marina.
The hydraulic arms were re-delivered to us and David was able to re-assemble everything. No whale-song!!! Now we were finally ready to get cruising, and started making plans with Russ and Jax for the next leg of the journey which involves the Delaware River and New Jersey Coast, meaning that we needed a 2-day weather window (ideally on a weekend due to our working schedules). Unfortunately, as we were finally ready to leave, a bunch of bad weather hit the forecast, which left us waiting day by day in Baltimore for our time to head out.
Ever since I had first heard about it, I was interested in doing it, but it wasn’t until I suggested that Matthew join me in visiting Disney that it became a reality. I’m talking about the Galactic Starcruiser, a Star Wars-themed hotel larp-like experience at Disney World. This is a two-day stay at a hotel that is themed like an intergalactic space cruise ship, but involves live-interactions with cast members, an unfolding plot, secret missions, an “excursion day” on the planet of Batuu (Galaxy’s Edge theme park area in Hollywood Studios) and so much more!
Matthew’s friends from California were looking into doing this experience and had extra room in the suite that they were going to book – I immediately said YES! And despite everything that had been going on for us over the past few months – from trips to Seattle, Prague, New York, buying and moving in to a Key West house etc, I was SO EXCITED for our cruise on the Chandrila Star Line!
From the moment that you emerge from the launch pod (yes, there’s an experience just to enter the hotel), you are fully immersed in this world. There are no windows in the hotel, only screens where you can see the planets outside, and in accordance with the plot, occasionally you see the starburst of lightspeed.
The official events begin at Muster, where the Captain greets us, but is interrupted during a safety briefing by the First Order who board the ship suspecting rebel activity. From then on, you are thrown into an unfolding story where based on the characters that you interact with, you receive missions to complete that either help or hinder the rebels or the First Order – or maybe you play a double agent!
The cast members were so amazing at including everyone, even large groups of people as we completed tasks in the engine room, smuggled Chewie around the ship, helped decode secret messages brought in by the Diva who would perform that evening at dinner, learned to operate the bridge, practiced with light-sabers and so much more.
It felt like being on an adrenaline high for 2 days – there was always something to do and everyone’s experience was a little different. Matthew was invited to a secret Jedi ceremony, while I was officially declared a member of the resistance (Ignite the spark!!). We all assisted the Diva in saving her home planet.
Overall it was an incredible probably-once-in-a-lifetime experience and I HIGHLY recommend it it you have any inclination.
After returning to planet Earth, I went straight to Animal Kingdom, where I met up with Russ and Jax for a day of exploring the park. They were a willing audience to hear me gushing about my Starcruiser experience as I came down from the adrenaline rush of the past two days!
On Thursday, David arrived and set up to work from Alex’s office for the rest of the week. I also had to work on Thursday as I had to attend and present at our quarterly board meeting. Thursday evening, Bethy had managed to get preview tickets to the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, so we had a great night out. On Friday, I meet up with Russ and Jax at Magic Kingdom and we had another fantastic park day.
Saturday was the day that David would join us in the park. Bethy and I woke up early in order to secure our place in the virtual queue for the Guardians ride – which she is amazing at and got us in Group 2!
It so happened to be also right around the time that the coronation was happening in England, so amazingly I was able to watch this historic moment.
We did Epcot in the morning and then park hopped to Hollywood Studios in the afternoon so that David could see the Star Wars land, returning to Epcot for a huge pizza dinner! It was a fantastic day out with the 6 of us, we were able to ride all the rides we wanted and enjoyed good food, drink and company.
After an incredible week with friends, we flew back to Baltimore and Highwind. We’ll be wrapping up our winter projects and readying her to cruise for the summer – our first real boating after 6 months.
Though I did not mention it in our last post, there was actually one other update from the month of March. After the loooooong winter in Baltimore, it had made me realize that one of the reasons I was potentially less enthused about our future plans to return on Highwind to the west coast would be the return to another looooong winter. You see, I have become quite accustomed to following the good weather from north to south and have really enjoyed our winters in the warm weather of Florida. Apparently David had also been thinking the same when he floated the idea by me to look at buying a house in Key West that could be our winter residence.
We started looking at houses on Redfin and the more we talked about it, the more excited we got about the idea. Fast forward to the end of March, where we had an offer accepted on a house that we had only seen via remote video tour. Therefore, after we returned from Seattle, we soon found ourselves hopping on a flight down to Key West to oversee the house inspection in person! Everything went smoothly on the day, and later in the afternoon while I was working by the pool at our hotel, I was feeling very excited about our decision!
We decided to extend our trip through the weekend and enjoyed some more of the sun before we returned back to Baltimore. With nothing large discovered on the inspection, and a quick closing expected (~2 weeks), we started making plans for our move-in date, in mid-April.
We made arrangements to fly into Key West and spend 2.5 weeks getting the house set up before we would head to Orlando for a long-pre-planned Disney/Bethy and Alex visit in the first week of May.
In the time between our visit for the inspection and our move-in trip, we kept quite busy! I enjoyed a couple more classes at the pole studio here in Baltimore, before saying potentially goodbye to the new friends I had made there. Jan and Jim invited us to their house for Easter, so we arranged to rent a car for the day and drove up for a wonderful time! I also took a trip up to New York for another work planning session.
Since we had sold our condo in Seattle and cleared out our storage unit, we would be starting entirely from scratch setting up this house. We decided to fly into Miami so that we could swing by Ikea and Costco. David had been trying to find a car for us to buy, but apparently it’s a seller’s market at the moment, so we ended up putting a down payment on a car that was arriving a few days after we arrived, and we ended up with a rental mini-van in the meantime. This actually worked out well for us, since we packed it to the gills!
The next two weeks were a hectic blur of building furniture, setting up a kitchen, installing internet, getting settled, etc. One of our criteria for this house was that it needed to require essentially no renovation work – since we’d not be there full time, we needed to to be basically ready to go.
However, sprinkled between all that work, we did manage to have a little fun as well. On our first weekend, the Blue Angels were kicking off their show season at the Key West Air Show. This was my first time attending a Blue Angels show at the actual show location where someone narrates and describes all the maneuvers that they are performing. It is incredible to see what they are able to do!
That weekend, our purchased car ended up coming in early, so we drove back to Miami to return the rental car and pick up our new Kia Soul and take a second pass at Costco and Harbor Freight.
The following weekend, there was a festival in town that included a bicycle-powered kinetic-sculpture parade and a drag race through town. We loved to see this happening in spite of the recent legislature changes occurring “cracking down” on drag performances. Key West’s unique and open culture is one of the reasons we chose to move here!
In the second week, we also hosted our first guests – a couple of my team members flew in to Key West for a team planning session. We set up the outdoor table (our only furniture at the time) as a conference table and had a great working day, with dinner on Duval Street afterwards.
Finally, in the last few days, my new pole arrived from Italy and I was able to get it set up and give it a spin – literally as it’s a spin pole!!
It was an extremely busy two weeks, but by the time I was set to head to Orlando (a few days before David), we were mostly ready to shut up the house for the summer. David ended up staying around for another several days to receive/assemble the last of our ordered furniture, get the house packed away for hurricane season, and ended up finding a burgeoning termite infestation had moved in around the same time we did. The joys of home ownership!
We arrived in Prague on Saturday, got dinner and drinks, and wandered around a bit. Sunday, we had pre-planned to take a day trip outside of the city to Kutna Hora. We took the train and arrived a 2 mile walk outside of the tourist area. Not realizing that we could have hopped on a bus, we instead walked into town.
Our first stop was the Royal Mint, where we learned a lot about the development of the czech currency. Being surrounded by precious metal mines, this city was once a massive center of politics and power. Not only was currency forged here, but it was also a royal residence, so there was a lot to learn about royal history, in particular during the time of the Hussite Wars. There was also a chapel which was filled with the most amazing Art Nouveau designs.
After our tour of the mint, we visited St Barbara’s Cathedral, which had some beautiful stained glass windows.
Lastly, we visited the Sedlec Ossuary, or the Bone Church. This was created as a memorial to those who died in the Plague; were there were so many bodies that would not fit in the graveyards, so their bones were used to create sculptures to decorate the church. We were not allowed to take any photos inside, as they too many problems with tourists taking selfies that were not respectful of the site. It was certainly macabre inside.
We had a lovely day as tourists in Kutna Hora, but then the week started. David was in the office working for the week, and I work east coast hours, which ends up being 2-10pm Prague time. This gives me the mornings to do some tourism in the city. I found two new places to visit on this trip. The first was the Convent of St Agnes, which is an off-site wing of the National Gallery of Prague housing medieval, predominantly Christian, art. It was AMAZING. I actually stumbled upon it one one of my morning walks, and only had about 2 hours to wander through, so I was rushing at the end – this is somewhere I will definitely return to next time. The second place was the Vysehrad, a hilltop fortress. Here, I visited the Basillica of St Peter and Paul, which was another cathedral FILLED with Art Nouveau paintings – almost no inch was unpainted.
The graveyard surrounding the cathedral was also incredible – it was filled with some amazing mosaics.
Next, I took a guided tour through the casements and the Gorlice Hall. These were the tunnels created for moving troops around the fort (which was never completed or used). The Gorlice Hall is the largest open area within the casements and currently houses a few of the original statues from the Charles Bridge (many of the statues on the bridge currently are replicas). I learned that the Gorlice Hall was actually created due to an error made by the designer/builder of the walls where the two ends of tunnels turned out not to meet. It was at one time used to store potatoes. As you walk through the tunnels, it really feels like you are going underground, but in reality you are inside a giant wall on the top of a hill overlooking Prague!
From Prague, we flew directly to Seattle. Once again, this was primarily a work trip for David, but as usual we made plans to visit with various people throughout the week. Also as usual we failed to take many photographs, but we had a lovely week seeing friends and family which was capped off with a gathering at Mark and Robin’s to celebrate Mark’s 70th!
We returned back to the boat feeling like we’d been gone for the better part of a month (which was true after including the Big Sky trip too). In the evenings of the last week of March, David was finally able to put together the rest of the engine and on Wednesday we were able to take our first test drive out away from the dock. We reminisced that our 4 month span in Baltimore was probably the longest amount of time that we had not done any kind of boat cruise since we first bought meridian-Highwind more than 6 years ago! Luckily we remembered how to do things :). David had to fix a quick leak in the exhaust system, but other than that, the engine seems to be working. We still have the fuel consumption issue, but we are at least back to where we were before our disastrous stay in Solomons. PROGRESS? You decide!
The better part of February was spent in Baltimore with the one engine out of commission and hunkering down through the cold weather. I managed to get out to two different pole studios in the area and a couple more times to yoga. It feels so amazing to finally get back on a pole with some regularity!
As the winter was wearing on and David was doing more research about our engines, it’s starting to seem like we need to do something more drastic — a repower, a complete changeout of the engines for new ones. We can keep these engines limping along, but they’re really not made for the type of usage that we put them through — very high load, for hours on end, and 500+ hours a year. They’re not rated for it, and it shows. So we’ve been looking into what engines to replace them with, but the expense is going to be very high, so we started thinking about the idea of just trying to find a different boat. So, we decided to impromptu head to Miami for the Miami Boat Show, and bought plane and show tickets just a couple days before the show.
A large benefit of this trip was to get us back to some warm weather! Russ and Jax met us there and we had a lovely couple of days touring all the new models of power catamarans. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything that would really work for our unique situation – 2 live-aboard remote workers who are on zoom calls 8hrs a day. One of the amazing things about the layout of Highwind (which is pretty unique) is that there is enough room for us both to have full office desk setups in different rooms. On Sunday we visited with Don, our friend from Seattle and Meydenbauer Yacht Clubs who invited us to hang out at his pool for the afternoon.
In the last few days of February we finally had some great news from the machine shop – they had been able to complete the rebuilt of the head unit using most of the parts from the unit that we had shipped from England. We rented a uhaul truck and a task-rabbiter to assist with bringing it inside the boat and down onto the engine (David was still recovering from his surgery, so we wanted him to be careful with his abs). The task-rabbiter also assisted us with moving some of the heavier pieces of the engine downstairs.
Before David could actually start any of the reassembly, however, we were headed to Big Sky for another ski trip. This time it was a reunion of our friends from David’s days at Skype. We had a fantastic time, as usual, hanging out, skiing (and also working a bunch). We celebrated David’s birthday with some candles in his favourite ice-cream flavours.
We returned to Baltimore for 2 days before we were then headed out to a Prague & Seattle trip for David’s work. In those 2 days, David was able to put together a large portion of the engine, but the work was not quite done. However, we had a plane to catch, so in early March we were headed away from Baltimore once more.
With most of the starboard engine sitting in pieces on a tarp upstairs, we’ve settled down into something resembling a routine (as much as that is possible given our hectic lives).
We returned to Highwind from Big Sky a day before the New Year, and picked up the fixed-mount heaters that David had ordered from Big Sky while we were watching the temparatures on the boat drop to well below freezing and worrying about what damage was being wreaked on our systems. Amazingly after some inspection and a very careful process of turning back on the water pump and testing out the water maker, we were thankfully able to declare that no damage was done! David installed all the heaters in the engine bays, which will turn themselves on automatically when needed, hopefully giving us some piece of mind about everything below the floor while we wait out the winter here.
For New Years Eve, I managed to find a local bar offering dinner and a burlesque show, an outing that was fun. True to form, we took no pictures the entire evening, despite both of us getting fancied up for the occasion :).
After 2 cancellations due to unfortunately-timed covid and travel-related sicknesses, we finally had re-scheduled David’s surgery for just after New Years. The week needed to be carefully orchestrated as I needed to travel to New York for a work trip only 2 days after the surgery, so I spent the holiday weekend doing lots of meal prep to ensure that David would be able to easily feed himself while not being fully mobile. We also had his aunt Jan on standby in case he urgently needed help. (And of course I would have cancelled my work trip if he had needed me to stay!).
The surgery went really well and his recovery seemed to be going smoothly, so on Thursday morning of the first week in January, I woke up at 4:30am to take a train from Baltimore to New York for a couple of days of fiscal planning. It’s amazing how well the train system works in the North East!! I returned back to Highwind on Friday night and we settled in for a couple of weeks of lying low and taking it easy while David was healing.
During that time, we did make it out to a local Baltimore park where Jan was playing a hockey game. It was fun to watch her play and then we had dinner with some of her team mates later in the evening.
IT IS COLD IN BALTIMORE! It also doesn’t help that one of our heaters in the boat decided to break down, so while we might have bought the xmas onesies as a joke, more often than not, this is what I look like in the evenings!
What I am especially appreciating while we are not moving is the ability to go to a local pole studio, where I have been making friends with the instructors and students! I’ve also been taking some yoga classes at a studio near the marina (OMG, 95 degree hot yoga is AMAZING when your house is so cold all.the.time).
When we realized that we would not be making our reservation in Key West, where we had planned to be for 4 weeks, we unfortunately had to tell everyone who had plans to visit us that they would need to cancel. This was very sad. My parents decided that they were going to keep their flights for the week that they had planned and instead booked an AirBnB. Matthew, David, and I decided to join them for the last weekend of that week, which was when we’d purchased ferry tickets for the Dry Tortugas (anticipating that again we’d not have the weather window to take Highwind there ourselves).
We flew in on Thursday morning, landing in the afternoon. Both David and I had work meetings, so our trip didn’t really start until Friday (for me), and unfortunately David couldn’t even take Friday off. It was so lovely, if a little bittersweet, to be somewhere warm!
We spent Friday mainly wondering around town, and then for dinner we returned to the sushi boat restaurant for a delicious feast. On Saturday morning, we awoke early and made our way to the ferry terminal for the voyage to the Dry Tortugas. Incredibly ironically, it was actually a beautifully calm day and would have been no problem at all for us to have taken Highwind there ourselves!
The naturalist/guide gave us a tour of the fort and described how it came to be that one of the biggest forts of this type was built on an island some 50+ miles offshore in the middle of nowhere (hint – it has to do with protecting trade routes, and safe anchorages). We spent the day wondering around the fort, doing some snorkeling off one of the beaches, and walking around on the beach.
On Sunday, we had signed up for an escape room on a boat adventure. David and I had heard about this as a new venture that the owner of the escape room in town had been putting together last year. Essentially, he takes you to a remote island (public park) and sets up an escape room there, after which you can choose to do a more standard “boat charter” activity, like dolphin watching, or snorkeling. Being a very boat-oriented family, we had been looking at the weather and noticed that there was some wind predicted for the afternoon, but it didn’t look too bad. We met up with our captain and the marina and set out. As soon as we got around the lee of the island that was protected from the wind, we started to hit some waves. He knew that we were experienced boaters, and asked us if we were fine to continue. It wasn’t so rough that we getting sick, although David happed to be sitting on the wrong side of the boat and was soaked from waves splashing. We continued forward, but within moments, the waves were getting to be 5-7 feet high (bigger than I’ve ever been in), and our bow was getting repeatedly swamped. Mum finally looked at the captain and said “You’re the Captain!” at which point he decided to turn around.
Once we got back into calmer waters, he explained that we could actually solve the puzzles on the boat, so he set everything out for us on the bow and we got to solving puzzles. This took place while we were standing in an inch of water, since apparently his bilge pumps weren’t actually functioning!!!
Well, that was an adventure :).
We returned back to Baltimore, where I had one day turnaround before heading on the train back to New York for another three days of planning sessions. This time, David joined me in on Friday evening, and we spent the weekend hanging out in New York, where I forgot to take any photos of our trip. We went to an off-off-off-off Broadway variety show on Friday night, which I thought was going to have an aerialist performer, but it turned out their aerial act was on pause for the month. We also visited the New York Boat Show with my colleagues, and then had an absolutely fabulous dinner at the Modern where I told them I was celebrating my birthday, which was technically a few weeks earlier, when David had been recovering from surgery.
All in all, we are keeping pretty busy while we’re stuck here in Baltimore!
As time marches on, so do our needs for internet reliability and speeds. I’ve been passing around our original post for a while now, but at this point virtually nothing on the boat remains from it, so it seemed like time for an entirely new post…
Routing and Cellular Modems
The core of our latest system is still Peplink-based, but we’ve moved ahead to the 5G device generation. We use the MBX Mini 5G as our primary appliance — it supports 2 wired WANs, 2 2.4/5G wifi connections for WAP or WiFi-as-WAN, and has 2 built-in 5G 4×4 cellular modems. Unlike the Transit line, it has a much more powerful processor that’s able to keep up with the bandwidth its modems can provide, even when using Speedfusion to bond multiple lines. We still want to maintain the three-cellular plan setup (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile), so we also have added a MAX Adapter 5G to augment the two built-in modems in the MBX Mini. Note that the MBX Mini 5G is a very expensive appliance, and, since we bought it, Pepwave has added a BR2 Pro to its lineup, which is slightly over half the price, and theoretically has all the features that we care about from the MBX Mini.
The two units mount on the ceiling right under our radar/antenna mast, which is a folding unit to be lowerable to clear all the low bridges on the east coast. This setup complicates the need to run as-short-as-possible wires between the cell modems and the antennas, so I had to get some very short extensions to reach between the two. I also wanted to leave the units exposed both to be able to change out SIM cards (which happens annoyingly often as these different MVNOs all go the way of the dodo) and also because the MBX actually gets very hot, just like the Transit Duo that came before it, so this was a nice lazy way to keep it “cooled”.
Since we’re using the WiFi ports on the MBX for WiFi-as-WAN (bringing outside internet into the internal network), we need some solution for WiFi on the boat. I have CAT6 run all over the boat from the MBX to have reliable hard links to work computers and for some simpler devices without wifi, but also to power an access point. I have a very simple gigabit switch centrally located in the boat, and I POE inject one of the lines off that down to an access point located in the ceiling panel above the center hallway of the boat, about as “middle of the boat” as one can get.
I originally used the AP One Rugged for an access point, both on our earlier Meridian boat and again with the first-gen internet setup on the TrawlerCat, but kept having issues with connectivity dropping out on it approximately daily and needing to hard reboot it to recover connectivity. I had a pile of communications with support at Peplink, and they were completely flummoxed by what was going on. They sent multiple RMA replacements that all had the same problem, did enhanced debugging, had me run special internal firmware builds, and nothing helped.
At the end of the day, fighting with Peplink was less important than reliable internet, so I gave up and bought a simple Ubiquiti WiFi 6 Lite unit, put it in the exact same spot as the AP One had been, and we’ve never had a problem since then. A big downside is that I don’t get AP management through the single Peplink portal, but our WiFi always works, so …
For cellular antennas, we have updated to the latest generation of Peplink stuff: the Maritime 40G, which is a 4×4 MIMO unit w/built-in GPS antenna. Steve@SeaBits posted a nice article back in March 2022 testing out a bunch of the next-generation antennas, and these seemed like a good fit for us. One tiny benefit of this is that new antenna I was able to remove the dedicated GPS receiver taking up space on our radar mount tower. But mostly, it’s 4×4 MIMO, so you can use the latest quad-band-aggregation for higher speeds and reliability, and has great omnidirectional gain. On the downsides, not only do you now have to run 5 wires from each antenna through the radar tower and into the boat, but they’re also huge. But they are working better in every way than our older Poynting units.
For WiFi-as-WAN, given how incredibly rare it is that we care about using external wifi these days, I’m still using two of the same old Poynting 496 units (literally the last remnants of the old setup), but we go months at a time in between when I feel like trying them out, being disappointed in the shore-based internet, and turning them off again. So they’re pretty useless at this point, given the amazingness of the rest of the system.
As mentioned above, we have plans with all 3 of the major carriers in the US: Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
For Verizon, we lucked out years ago and got an account on the pre-paid plan before they realized they were losing money and stopped selling new ones, but we’re still grandfathered in and using it. It’s definitely lower priority than our cell phones — during high congestion times in busy areas, it slows to low single-digit mbit speed, while our phones (on Verizon) can still pull high speeds. But for 65$/mo, we can’t complain. If we have to end up moving to one of the MVNOs for Verizon, we’ll end up paying over twice that.
For TMobile, I’ve been using atthotspot.com for an unlimited plan since June 2022, after our last MVNO shut down. The guy who owns it has been great for support and I haven’t had a single burp in service.
For AT&T, our last MVNO actually shut down in early January, and I just switched over to atthotspot.com for AT&T as well last week. So far it’s been working great, and only dealing with one MVNO at a time is a nice consolidation. AT&T has been locking down a lot of 3rd party routing equipment on their networks, so we actually had problems with the modem in the MBX Mini getting shut down within a few hours of activating, but after several days in the MAX Adapter, it seems to still be working fine, so crossing our fingers here.
I also keep a Google Fi data-only sim in one of the MBX’s secondary SIM slots to let me switch to it in case of emergency and whenever we bring the boat into non-US waters (until we can find a local SIM). It’s a great cheap backup network, and we do the same thing in our cell phones (primary Verizon, secondary GoogleFi).
Note that I’m not paid anything by the atthotspot.com folks for linking them, they’re just serving me well.
One of the biggest changes in our general connectivity has been the addition of Starlink. We first got a residential dish in February 2022 after being on the waitlist for a while, and immediately integrated it into our cellular setup. I got the pole mount for it, used some simple pole clamps to clamp it to a vertical railing support on our Juliette balcony, and ran the wire through the wall into the boat to the Peplink router’s WAN 1 port. It worked great, immediately, and gave us a fairly fast (usually >50mbit) connection that was always up. It struggled a bit when we were under way or moving around on anchor — any time the boat turned significantly it would go offline for seconds to minutes as it reassessed the state of the world and reconnected, but otherwise was fairly solid.
We tested it that way for long enough to be sure that we had functioning hardware, and then quickly did the common POE conversion to save on power. Since we have a 48V house battery system, it’s actually a large efficiency savings for us to ditch the factory router and power brick setup and just go straight to running Starlink off the 48V system rather than through the inverter to 110 and then through a power brick back to 48V, as well as powering an extra router that I had no use for. I used the Tycon POE injector method, since it lets you use a cheap and very small enclosed/protected device, and all you have to do is flip a couple of the pairs when you crimp your ethernet cables both in and out of it. So the dish is DC-powered and uses a fairly low 35-ish watts most of the time. Small price to pay for the level of internet it gives us.
However, in the boonies, where we had weak cell signal and were starting to rely on Starlink for connectivity, when under way especially, it still had significant dropouts, which was impacting our work. I ended up buying a second (RV this time) dish setup, and setting it up in the other corner of the Juliette balcony, POE-converting it, and setting it up as a second WAN. Also, as soon as I was sure the hardware was working, did the motor-disabling conversion, so it always lays flat.
People had been finding that if you disabled the motors, the dish basically just “did the best it could” at all times, rather than always trying to reorient toward the northern pole before getting connectivity back. This was theoretically resulting in increased connectivity for those in motion/rocking around on the water. The logic was fairly sound, but being a science-ey person, I wanted some proof myself. So we did the A-B test of the two dishes — one motor-disabled, one not. While floating around on anchor in a nice open-sky bay in Maine, the dish with motors working had its usual ~50+ connection-drops a day, usually in the 2-5 second range, but some in the 10+ second range. However, the dish that I disabled motors on?
Well. Okay then. We continued the experiment for several more weeks, and consistently got the same results — either zero or very close to zero outages on the motor-disabled dish, and the normal dish had consistent outages, especially under any kind of boat movement. I eventually called the experiment a success, disabled the motors on the second dish, and then both dishes had the same virtually-zero-outages behavior. Great success!
For the rest of our summer in Maine, while cellular was pretty spotty most of the time, Starlink is what kept us happily working, despite being miles from civilization. Working from Maine in 2020 was very difficult, and put a big damper on the spots we were able to spend weekdays. But the summer of 2022 had no such problems — we went anywhere we wanted, whether it had cell signal or not, and had consistently usable internet for multiple simultaneous video calls. It’s truly a paradigm shift in connectivity.
The last critical piece to our current setup is Peplink’s WAN-bonding system called SpeedFusion. It basically takes whatever WANs are currently working (we have 5 possible ones — 3 cellular and 2 starlinks), and for every packet to or from the internet, sends copies of it down multiple WANs (usually 2, but sometimes more, depending on your setup) to the SpeedFusion server in a cloud data center. From there, it takes whichever copy of the packet gets there first, ignores the other copies, and passes it onto the destination. When the destination sends you data back, it does exactly the same thing, but in reverse — sends multiple copies down to your boat, and whichever WAN delivers it to you first, it uses that, and the straggler copies are ignored.
The result is that, at the cost of duplicating data down your multiple connections, you get lowest-common-denominator behavior for your connectivity. If one of your connections has a hiccup for a second or two, you have absolutely no idea, because one of your other connections is still working, and the copies of the data on that link are still communicating happily. When you have inherently-slightly-unreliable connections like cellular or satellite, bonding multiple of them together and smoothing it with SpeedFusion is utterly critical to maintain the appearance of a single reliable internet connection. Our video calls are more stable and consistent than most people on home internet, because of the inherent redundancy that SpeedFusion gives you.
For quite a while, we used SpeedFusion only for video calls — the router has an option to just automatically forward zoom/teams meetings to SpeedFusion, leaving your other traffic to pick a random WAN to go out, stable or not. However, at some point, I got tired of manually managing which WANs were stable or not — you’d try to load a webpage and get nothing, go into the router config, and start trying out disabling different connections and refreshing the page and see when it worked well. While manually twiddling bits makes you feel like a hacker and all, sometimes you just want your shit to work without constant fiddling. So eventually, I bought a larger swath of SpeedFusion data (you pay for SpeedFusion by the gigabyte of data that goes through their servers) and routed ALL data through our computers through it, just leaving media devices (TV for netflix, tablets, etc.) to play internet roulette off speedfusion, since those are what use so much of our bandwidth and needs reliability the least.
In the end, this new setup costs a bit more money in SF costs, but it means that I’m virtually never messing with the router anymore. Things just work. Which is really the goal. Living on a boat brings enough challenges. Sometimes you just want to grab a beer and open up YouTube and know that it’s going to work, without futzing with connectivity for 5 minutes first.
With all of this firepower in place, it’s an incredibly rare day that we have under 50 megabits of downlink at any time, are usually between 150 and 250mbits, and periodically exceed 350-400. It’s actually fairly incredibly how fast the technology in this area has advanced. If you’d told me 5 years ago that we’d be able to do this today, on a boat, anywhere, I’d have said it was at least 5 years too early. And yet, here we are.
An interesting note we’ve learned is what the different parts of our system are good at. Starlink has started getting slower and slower in populated areas as they’ve oversold the network. When we first got Starlink, we were in northern Florida, and easily cleared 100mbit constantly. As the year went on, by late summer, in populated areas, we were often down in 5-10mbit territory until after midnight. However, in populated areas you also end up with great cellular connectivity, so the two systems actually complement each other very nicely. When Starlink is slow, multiple cellular connections are usually working great. Then, out in the middle of nowhere, cellular is only passable in an emergency, but we have two Starlink dishes each pulling over 100 mbits with no one around to share it with.
After arriving in Baltimore late Friday night, we woke up at a decent hour Saturday morning, saw Nick off to the airport, and then settled in to dismantle most of the starboard motor. We had tickets to fly to Seattle on the following Saturday, so we had a full week to get the job done if it ended up taking that long, but we did need to get the head to a machine shop by then to have any prayer of continuing south in a reasonable timeframe.
The Yanmar service manual is astonishingly useless — the description to remove the head is only 3 pages long, most of which are instructions like “remove intake manifold”, without any nuances about the multiple water lines with seals attached to it, so the entire process was fulled with, uh, “creativity”. I’ve dismantled and fully rebuilt multiple types of smaller gasoline engines before, but this was my first large diesel. So while I can wing a lot of the process and feel comfortable about my ability to put it back together, I was not really duly prepared for hauling several awkward 150+ lb parts out of the engine bay. However, at the end of about 10 hours of work Saturday, the upstairs area was full of engine parts, and the head was actually fully out and ready to go to a machine shop.
I identified a few machine shops, narrowed it down to a recommendation from a local Yanmar service guy, and on Monday they ended up actually coming by the marina to pick up the head from us. Ahead of schedule! We had a pretty uneventful week in Baltimore from there — mostly cold and rainy, so we didn’t do a lot of leaving the boat. We even managed to see our friend Matt, who moved to Norway before the pandemic, and meet his wife for the first time, and hang out for an evening catching up.
We flew home to Seattle for a week of work events for my company, and had a great week catching up with family and friends each night, and my teams and running some holiday events during the days/evenings.
We even got a fair bit of snow in Seattle after going to a Kraken game!
Unfortunately, at the same time, bad news started coming in from the machine shop. The head was actually pretty messed up — it looked like there had been a small hydrolock event, likely due to the excessive cranking the mechanic had to do after he messed up installing the diesel lines making it unable to start, sucking water down the exhaust into the motor. All of the valves were slightly bent and many had munged-up tips from bouncing around the rockers, but at least the head itself had no damage. While that wasn’t great news, the worst news came later that week: new exhaust valves are completely unavailable. They list 100 business days out from Japan, which really means “absolutely no idea when”.
By the time we’d gotten to that conclusion, it was the end of the week, so I spent the weekend digging up any used heads I possibly could. Again, we get pretty screwed by this low-production-run engine — there’s just virtually no used parts around anywhere. I chased down two used heads in Florida. One guy looked really promising, but eventually when I wanted to send him money he switched to saying that he will only do local pickup. Then the other one when I got to the point of sending money, finally took detailed enough shots of the motor to see that there were only 5 cylinders’ valves in it, leaving me 2 exhaust valves short. I confirmed with the machine shop — really, all 12 valves are unusable? Yep. Back to the drawing board.
I found one more used head in England, but by the time I could exchange enough communication with them to agree to buy it, all of the shipping companies in the UK had closed up for the holidays. So, at this point, our best case scenario is likely picking up the head on Jan 4th or so, shipping it to the machine shop, which will take weeks, and then repair time. So, we’re hoping to be able to start putting the motor back together around the end of January or early February, best case scenario.
This, of course, leaves us in Baltimore through then. We are pretty stuck in limbo on deciding whether it’s worth bothering to take all the time, energy, and expense of going south at all, given that timeline, or just spend the winter on the Chesapeake (probably mostly or entirely in Baltimore). We’ll make that call when we get a more-firm timeline, but for now we’re thinking we should be laid in for a long winter in Baltimore. I’m also exploring repowering the boat to Cummins QSB6.7s — I’m exhausted with horrible parts prices and availability on these Yanmars, plus what has only been an utter recurring disaster of incompetent shops in the very limited service network for us.
Lots of time in limbo has been giving us plenty of time to consider what our future plans are. While we’ve been enjoying our time boating on the east coast, had a blast doing the Great Loop, and we had the best possible weather and experiences in Maine this past summer, we’ve come to the conclusion that the boating around the northwest, in the summer months, still beats anything the east coast has to offer. We largely came out to the east coast to be able to do boating adventures where there was safe internet — in the northwest, as soon as you go north or west from Vancouver, there’s basically no cell coverage anymore until Juneau. With Starlink now being a robust solution for us, we’re ready to do more extended cruising away from cell coverage in the northwest.
To that end, we have been, for a couple months now, exploring options to get back to the northwest. We could obviously buy a different boat over there and rebuild to our liking, but that sounds exhausting. We’ve been getting varying degrees of burned by every shop we’ve used to do work, and with how the industry is known to be at extreme levels of worker shortage and quality, I wouldn’t trust anyone other than myself to do that work. We’ve looked into transport costs, but between the price of diesel and pandemic limiting shipping options, prices for yacht transport are astronomical — I’ve been getting quotes of over 75k$ to ship our boat to the northwest from Florida, which is just shy of four times what we paid to send the (slightly smaller) boat that same route 2 years ago.
I started turning to the more interesting option — what if we did it ourselves? Just like there is the AGLCA, an organization for resources for everyone doing the great loop, there’s another group, the Panama Posse, for cruisers exploring everything between California and Florida. There’s forums, live chats, tons of marina discounts, cruising guides, and more. It’s definitely less well-organized than the AGLCA, but it gives one a lot of confidence. I joined the group a month ago, just to see what was available and what sort of communication was happening, and it is a very lively group. There’s usually over a hundred messages a day on the chats, with people all over the place providing advice, asking questions, and gorgeous pictures of sunsets. We couldn’t really consider this route with our original Meridian due to limited range, but this boat has well over 1000nm of range at passagemaking speed (~8kts), so going through the Panama canal is actually a completely viable option. By next winter, Starlink will be active through the entirety of Central America, so it’s actually a very interesting option for us to consider.
So, we want to get back to the PNW by summer 2024 — what do we do in the meantime? We’ve talked about looping again, but with my work schedule being what it has evolved to in the last year, another several months of being second class citizens through major lock systems is fairly infeasible. Also, we didn’t really enjoy almost anything between Chicago and Mobile. So we’ve thrown that option out. We could do Maine again, but we had such a perfect experience last year it will be hard to replicate. However, there’s one interesting option that was largely closed to us during the pandemic — the Triangle Loop.
This would involve another replay of going up the Hudson River (which was pretty), with far less schedule pressure this time, running the Erie/Oswego canals again, possibly with some stops in the finger lakes of upstate New York. Then, instead of heading into the Trent-Severn, you head east, and explore the 1000 Islands National Park for a while (cruisers say you can easily spend an entire summer there). From there, you can either go straight up the St Lawrence Seaway to Montreal or you can take the preferred scenic route of the ancient Rideau Waterway up to Ottawa and from there down the Ottawa River to Montreal. Then you take the Richelieu River down to Lake Champlain, and through another canal back down to the Hudson River. We can clear the max 17′ air draft for this route with over a foot to spare, and it sounds like it’s some of the most gorgeous boating the northeast has to offer, so it feels like a good capstone trip for our east coast boating. Also, Russ and Jax like the idea, so we’d have a buddy boat again, which is part of what made the Maine trip so much fun this year.
So we’ll see. But those are our tentative plans for now — Baltimore for the winter, head north when it’s warmer and do some combination of Long Island Sound and the Triangle Loop with no time restrictions, then head back south down the east coast to Florida in the fall. Then we would either transport the boat over the winter if prices come down, or spend the winter doing an amazing adventure through the Panama Canal back to the west coast. But who knows — plans do tend to change!
In the meantime, we’re enjoying taking some time off in Big Sky with friends and family before the January madness commences. I’ve been doing Advent of Code for the month, using it as an excuse to learn a new programming language (Rust) and really enjoying it. We also have an escape room advent calendar we’ve been working through that we had to leave on the boat to finish when we get back.
We had a scare a few days ago when the polar vortex hit Baltimore and our boat, which we’d partially winterized, but not prepped for multiple days around 10F, plunged well below freezing, despite multiple heaters on. We have temperature sensors all over the boat we can read remotely. We sent a desperate message to the amazing dockmaster at Anchorage Marina who went over to our boat and put some more heaters in, and we’re desperately hoping that that was just enough heat to keep expensive things like the watermaker from freezing and exploding, but we’ll see. We could have a large and potentially very expensive mess to clean up when we get back in a few days, which we’re trying not to think too hard about. I’ve also ordered several heaters to hard-mount in the engine bays and lazarettes, in preparation for harsher winters to come…
More updates as we get them, we’re pretty much in waiting mode for the moment.
After our vacation week, we returned to reality and Highwind in Baltimore, where we both promptly got sick with bad colds, David first and then me a few days after. Unfortunately that meant that we had to cancel David’s scheduled surgery (for the 2nd time…). Though we both tested negative for Covid throughout our illnesses, this was worse than a earlier in the year when we actually had gotten Covid! We laid low on the boat for the week.
We had been talking with Safe Harbor Zahnisers in Solomons, MD, for the last month, getting on their schedule to replace our two injection pumps as soon as we got back. So we headed down there on Thursday, the day they wanted us to arrive.
Thus began a 5-week debacle of Hinkley levels of epic failure, though at least didn’t end with as ridiculous of a bill. The story’s not actually really worth telling, aside from the incredibly usual bits for shitty service departments. Guaranteed they’d have someone working on us full time (they didn’t), poor project management causing delays in needing things worked on by subcontractors, failing to track shipments ruining timelines, ordering wrong parts, breaking parts while installing and blaming it on us, taking apart way too much of an engine and charging us for labor to put it all back together, and culminating in a stuck valve requiring us to rebuild an engine that sure wasn’t stuck when we arrived. What was supposed to be a week and a half job to check and rebuild injectors and replace the two injection pumps turned into just shy of a 13k$ bill, rebuilt injectors, non-replaced injection pumps, and an engine needing a head rebuild.
So, while we were incapacitated with no engines for 4 weeks, and only 1 engine for 2 weeks, we set about amusing ourselves in other ways. We completed several projects on our list including:
Building a pantry cabinet into the hole where one of our fridges used to be (a project Hinkley failed to even start…)
Finding and fixing the last known leak in the boat – right over the helm, which took all of half an hour with a hose to narrow down, another thing Hinckley couldn’t figure out and charged us hours of labor for. Then we reupholstered the leak-damaged wall/ceiling panels in the master bedroom window and above the helm.
Having a fun evening with Jan and Jim who drove to visit us. Incidentally, we also ate out at every single restaurant in Solomons. Luckily there are more restaurants here than there were in Deltaville. Plus, Instacart was available for grocery delivery.
Meanwhile, the weather was starting to turn and the days were getting colder. We were lamenting our lack of progress south towards sun and Florida for the winter! My office was permanently moved to the upstairs while the downstairs of the boat remained in disarray during the weekdays.
Thanksgiving was approaching and Zahnisers wasn’t making much progress (understatement of the year). Our friend Nick had planned to join us (originally in Charleston!!) for the holiday and the week afterwards. After some last minute changes to his flight, and due to a particularly epic mistake made by Zahnisers, we ended up with a rental car on the evening that he flew in, so we picked him up from the DC airport.
I had special ordered a tiny turkey that would fit into our convection microwave oven. With Matthew’s encouragement, we decided to spatchcock it, which helped it to fit in the pan, and we ended up with a full Thanksgiving feast with all the sides roasted on the BBQ!
Despite being stuck at Zahnisers for the entire time Nick was visiting, we still had a lot of fun hanging out and playing games together. We visited the local Naval Aviation museum, where we got to look up close at several different kinds of jets and helicopters. We also set a record at a local escape room :).
As we were approaching his time to leave, we also needed to make a decision regarding completion of the repairs on our Starboard engine. After Zahnisers strapped us with a completely unreasonable bill, we decided to cut loose and head back north to Baltimore where likely David would tear down the engine himself and we’d find a local machine shop to repair the head unit. On Friday morning, since David had the day off, we left Zahnisers on one engine, and after about 5 passes attempting to turn around in windy conditions with no maneuverability, we eventually made it up the river a little to top up on diesel. It only took us 2 tries to dock on the gas dock! That’s actually good – David is incredible at being able to drive the boat while it’s incredibly handicapped. Not an easy feat with something so wide and with so much windage.
We settled in for a long cruise (10+hrs at 6 knots) to Baltimore where we had arranged to return to Anchorage marina. The amazing dockmaster here, who lives onsite, had scrounged up some of his liveaboard friends, so we were received at 8:30pm, well after dark, by 4 guys to help us with the lines.
Since it was Nick’s last night with us, we decided to go out for dinner and found a lovely fancy restaurant which had an amazing view of the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
We settled in to our new slip in Baltimore, where we will likely be for the next month as we work on getting the starboard engine back up and running and head out for some work and holiday related travel around Christmas.
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