2023 Internet Setup

Hanging out at anchor looking up at our cell antennas and Starlinks

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 MBX Mini 5G and MAX Adapter 5G on the ceiling right below the antennas

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”.

On-Boat WiFi

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 …

Antennas

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.

Starlink

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.

Early experimenting with the two Starlink dishes. They can never agree where to point…

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.

SpeedFusion

The SpeedFusion control panel, showing the different links being bonded

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.

Conclusion

A happy 5 WANs, sitting in Baltimore, MD’s inner harbor

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.

It’s working out unbelievably well.

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Limbo

Sometimes you have to just forget about all the craziness, and have a little fun together

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.

The picture of despair

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.

The Triangle Loop, including the two different routes between Kingston and Montreal

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…

Yep — starboard engine bay got down to 16 F for quite a while there…

More updates as we get them, we’re pretty much in waiting mode for the moment.

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to everyone!

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Stranded at Solomons

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.

Sunrise cruise

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.

Dinner with Jan and Jim

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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Portugal – Coimbra and Lisbon

On our way south from the Duoro Valley to Lisbon, Francisco had recommended that we stop in Coimbra to visit the University library – the Biblioteca Joanina. Coimbra University is one of the oldest educational institutions in Europe. The library tour starts out in the University Prison, which is essentially the basement (did you know that university prisons were a thing? I did not) with two cells in it, and then takes you up a floor to an area that used to be used for manuscript preservation. Here the shelves were lined with old books – I was impressed, and we weren’t even to the good part!

The main library is made up of three different rooms. It is absolutely stunning, but unfortunately photographs are completely forbidden, so these are from wikipedia. The library was specifically designed as a vault to protect the books inside, including shelving made with oak, whose smell repels paper-eating bugs, and a resident bat colony who spend each night also eating these bugs. The amazing reading tables are covered with leather cloths each night in order to protect them from the guano!

After the library, in the same building complex we visited also the chapel which had some lovely azulejos (blue tiles) and then the Coimbra Palace which is where doctoral thesis defenses still take place.

We arrived in Lisbon in the late afternoon and decided to have a relatively low-key evening. I had to log on to work for a couple of hours to attend and present at a board meeting for my company and we ordered delivery dinner to the hotel since it was pouring with rain.

On Friday morning, I had booked a walking tour of Lisbon to give us a chance to hear a little of the city’s history and to help us figure out what to do with the rest of our time here. We saw some great viewpoints of the city, learned about the 1755 earthquake that leveled most of the city and about several of the country’s kings, including the one pictured in the statue below who abandoned the city after the earthquake and is now commemorated with a statue of him literally facing away from the city with several ‘private jokes’ included (the snakes at his feet and the people being trampled by an elephant. We also saw the changing of the guard at the National Guard museum.

Our guide had been so excellent that we decided to take his afternoon tour of the Alfama neighbourhood in the afternoon. There, we sampled Ginjinha, which is a sweet cherry liquor and most famously made in Alfama. We also saw some azulejos describing some miracles performed by the patron saint of Lisbon including telling a woman she would find love (she met and married someone after speaking with the saint) and proving a donkey was blessed by Christ (by starving it for 3 days, and then offering it sacramental wafers which it refused to eat).

For dinner, I had made reservations at Fifty Seconds, a michelin-star restaurant that turned out to be a bit of a jaunt outside of Lisbon. We did manage to take the subway and then discovered that this restaurant was at the top of a HUGE tower right on the water (the elevator ride takes 50 seconds). We had a fantastic meal.

The next morning it was a bit rainy, but we decided to head to Belem. We were originally planning to do a hop on-hop off bus tour, but decided to take public transport instead, not knowing if we’d want to spend the whole day in the rain. After some struggles with transfers and being passed by with full trams whose doors wouldn’t even open, we finally made it to Belem.

We had a delicious brunch and then headed to the maritime museum. It was HUGE!

Obviously, considering Portgual’s long history with maritime exploration :). After the museum, we headed across the street to the Padrão dos Descobrimento (monument to maritime exploration) that is right at the waterfront. We were a little perplexed at first about how to get there since there were train tracks between us and the monument and the nearest bridges looked to be 1+ miles in either direction. Eventually we discovered a pedestrian underpass that was being hidden behind a construction wall surrounding the botanical gardens on our side of the street!

While at the top of the monument, we watched a group of kids on lasers struggle to return to the marina as the wind picked up – one of which was towed back because they lost their mast!

After visiting the monument, we decided to head to the famous pastry shop for a treat. Pasteis de Belem is the original maker of the custard tarts that can be found everywhere around Lisbon. They had just made a batch when we arrived, so they were warm and absolutely delicious!

After more public transportation adventures where we again encountered several trams that did not stop due to being full, we eventually made it back to Lisbon. Rather than heading back to our hotel, we decided to wander around a bit and stoped at a couple of wine shops for some pre-dinner drinks. For dinner, we had reservations at A Severa which a blogger had told me was good for listening to Fado, but turned out to be extremely touristy. Next time, we will heed the advice of our tour guide and go to one of the places on his list in Alfama for Fado (we already had these reservations by the time we met him). Regardless, we had a delicious dinner for our last meal in Portugal.

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Portugal – Douro Valley

Incredible views everywhere in the Duoro Valley

For our two days in the Douro Valley, I had organized a private wine tasting tour for the first day and a group tour for the second day – both of which would pick us up from our hotel which was located in Regua – one of the larger cities in the valley.

The Douro Valley is absolutely stunning and we were amazingly lucky to have a beautiful sunny and warm day for our first day out. With Francisco, our wonderful guide, we headed away from the city and into the heart of the valley for 45 minutes of incredible views as we followed the river. Almost every surface in the valley is terraced – there are hand-made terraces from the Roman times (i.e. 2300-1900 years ago), through to modern day terraces that are made by machines. We learned that the harvest in this area is still entirely manual, even today, due to the fact that the terraces with the vines are too small for any machinery to do any of the work.

In order to be officially classified as a Port, the grapes must be grown in this region only, the wine must also be made here in the valley, and then it must be aged/stored in Porto/Gaia. Though the region is famous for Port (thanks England!), there are over 250 different kinds of grapes grown here, and lots of “dry table wines” (their way of saying normal wine that is not sweet/fortified Port), both whites and reds are made here too.

Everything in the region seems to be divided into different estates or “Quintas” some of which produce wine under their own label, but more and more of these Quintas are being purchased by a parent brand (often foreign). The first that we visited was Quinta da Gricha, which is owned by a British family that has been making wine in the region for hundreds of years. Their label was “Churchills”. We were given a tour of the estate where we saw the granite Lagare where they still manually smash the wine (with feet). They had only just finished this process when we visited, so they were still stained purple from the grapes!

Lagare where grapes are foot stomped

After the tour, we tasted their wines (table wines and ports) on a porch overlooking their estate.

Next we traveled to Quinta da Ventozelo where we had a tasting menu lunch of local dishes on another porch overlooking their estate. It was a day filled with amazing views. We learned that the area we were touring has been designated as protected heritage by UNESCO, which means that many of these estates are not able to build mega-hotels for tourism. They are only allowed to renovate buildings that already exist on the estate in the same volume as those buildings existed before. Many estates are building small guest-houses and restaurants to accommodate visitors. In fact, we learned that wine tasting is not actually common in the region until only recently. Most places are only open to private or semi-private bookings and many are on winding roads that are not navigable by larger vehicles!

For the afternoon, we first went to Quinta dos Frades, which was originally established by monks who were the first makers of wine from the estate. On their property, they actually have a marker that officially denotes them as one of the best wine estates in the region in terms of the quality of their wine. On the half of the estate where their reserve wine comes from, some of the vines were over 150 years old.

At the last winery, Quinta do Panascal, we drank a flight of ports to close out the day. We also learned that our group tour booked for the next day was being cancelled, but luckily our amazing guide was able to work out his schedule to return the following day for another private tour.

The next morning, the weather was not as good, but we met up with Francisco for another day of sampling amazing wines. We started out with Quinta d0s Murcas. They are one of the few wineries in the region to obtain an official organic certification, and also foot stomp all their wine. They are also unique in that their various wines are all localized from particular areas of their estate, each having their own amounts of sun exposure and altitude depending on the location within the estate. This made for a really interesting tasting flight.

Next up, we stopped for lunch in the town of Pinhao at a restaurant attached to a winery where we had wine parings along with all of our courses.

After lunch, we stopped at a Quinta whose winemaker was a good friend of Francisco. She had only just become their wine maker last year, so the wines that we sampled were actually from the previous wine maker, and due to being under new ownership, they were changing all their methods – so clearly we’ll have to go back in a few years to try some of her wines!

By the afternoon, the weather had cleared up and our last stop was Quinta da Gaviosa, one of the estates under the wine brand Alves de Sousa.

The Douro Valley was unbelievably beautiful, and everyone we met with was extremely friendly. The wines were so unbelievably affordable that we ended up with 3 cases of wine that we somehow have to get back to the United States!

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Portugal – Porto

Porto and Gaia from the Luis I Bridge

On our last night in Prague, I was on work calls and wrapping up emails until close to midnight, and David was working until about 1:30am. Our alarms were set for 3:30am for our flight to Porto. We both passed out on the airplanes and arrived in Porto around noon.

I had booked a walking tour of the city for 3pm, so with some time to kill after checking in to our hotel (which actually turned out to be an apartment), we ate some lunch – a Francesinha, which is a huge sandwich with 3 kinds of Portuguese meat, all covered in a special sauce. Delicious! After lunch, we wandered past a lovely view point of the Duoro River and then went into the Church Venerável Ordem Terceira de São Francisco. They had a museum, (creepy) catacombs, a private church (a smaller one used by wealthy families and the main cathedral, which was spectacularly filled with gold-covered wooden carvings.

On our walking tour, we passed by most of the main tourist spots in the city, and Diana, our tour guide provided lots of detail regarding the historical and social context. Not only was this our first time being in Portugal, but David and I both realized how little we knew of Portuguese history. A fair amount of our ignorance, we think, is due to the fact that Portugal was essentially closed off from the world during its years under the dictator Salazar. Diana pointed out the statue of Justice outside the court house. Unlike her common portrayal, she is not blindfolded and is not actively holding out her scales and sword.

Porto Justice

Our tour ended at a cathedral, so David and I decided to visit inside where there were some excellent examples of the azulejos (blue tiles common to Portugal). We learned on the tour that these tiles actually came from the time when Muslims occupied the region and were used for insulation and also (religious) education for the illiterate general populace.

We were both pretty tired after 3 hours of walking around the city, so we stopped for an early dinner on the way back to our hotel. David immediately fell asleep and slept for about 16 hours, and I stayed awake for a couple hours reading before falling asleep myself.

After a lazy morning and a delicious tapas lunch, where we sampled the local cocktail, a Porto Tonico (white or rose port wine and tonic), we headed towards the Duoro River, through the Ribera neighbourhood, and over the Louis I bridge to Gaia where there are lots of local port wineries.

We did cellar tours through both Calem and Burmester where we learned about the history, making, and storing of port wine.

In the middle of the day, I decided that I wanted to try to see some Fado for the evening, which is a traditional type of Portuguese music where a Fadista (singer) is accompanied by someone playing a special Portuguese 12-string guitar. We found a Fado restaurant in the Gaia neighborhood that had space. With a few hours left in the day before our reservations, we decided to take a boat tour down the river, to see the famous 6 bridges of Porto. Apparently we can’t be off a boat for that long!

After the boat tour, we started walking towards the restaurant and came across this amazing store called “The Fantastic World of Portuguese Can” which turned out to be a store selling a huge variety of canned goods – primarily sardines, which seems to be a local favorite food.

We also stumbled into another port winery and did another tasting just before they were closing. We finally made it to the restaurant which had a lovely small and intimate setting where we were serenaded by two fadistas and two fantastic guitarists.

Fado in Gaia

The next morning, we had another slow start and decided to walk to a few landmarks that we had not visited on our tour, including the Capela das Almas – another church with blue tiles. Unfortunately, the monastery just across the Louis bridge was not open for visitors, but it did provide an amazing view back over the river to Porto.

After a long walk, we picked up our rental car and headed east out of town for a couple of days in the Duoro Valley.

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Prague with Friends

Sunset on the Charles Bridge Tower

After a restful though busy 3 weeks in Baltimore, we were headed to Europe for a 2 week visit – the first week in Prague for David’s work and the second for a real vacation in Portugal.

As usual, I would be tagging along with David on his work trip and working myself on East Coast hours. What made this trip a little different was that our very good friends Tami and Jeff would also be visiting the city (the first time for them!) for Jeff’s work!

David and I arrived on Saturday morning and would be unable to check in to our hotel room until the afternoon. We met up with Tami and Jeff in the lobby and headed out to see some of the city! We wandered up to the National Museum, which I had not visited before.

We accidentally entered the exhibit at the end, so we ended up walking backwards in time from the twentieth century backwards to the medieval period. After walking around the museum, David wanted to head to the hotel to rest for a bit while Tami, Jeff, and I went to visit the Klementinum so that Tami could see the old Baroque library. However, we arrived just after a tour had started and didn’t feel like waiting, so we instead decided to climb the Charles Bridge Tower for a good view of the city.

After that we returned to the hotel to rest for a bit before going out for a nice dinner together.

The next day, we met up for breakfast with David’s colleague Zaq and their partner Charlie who had arrived late on Saturday evening. I had booked us for a free walking tour of Prague in the morning that would take us around the main tourist areas of Old Town and the Jewish Quarter. I had taken this tour on our previous trip, but with a different guide so I learned some new facts on this tour as well!

After lunch, we headed up to the Prague Castle complex to explore. We went into St Vitus’s Cathedral to admire the stained glass windows. We visited at a perfect time as the sun was pointing directly at one side and the cathedral walls were painted with beautiful splashes of light.

We also walked through the Royal Gardens to see the tree collection and found a peacock!

On Monday, back in the US it was Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day, so I had the day off. While our spouses all went to work, Tami, Charlie, and I got together for another tourism day. We met at the Klementinum on time for the tour this time and got to see the beautiful Baroque Library and climb the Astronomical Tower.

We at some lunch and then walked over the Charles Bridge and up the hill to the Strahov Monastery/Brewery. At the Monastery, we visited another old library that I didn’t even realize was there! There was also a huge display of illuminated manuscripts, so of course I was in heaven. After visiting the library, we went to the taproom to sample the beer (they had sour ale!) and we sat outside in the sunshine.

As we walked back to the hotel to rest, we took a short detour to the Lennon Wall where the graffiti that David and I added 8+ years ago was long covered up!

In the evening, we met up with Zaq (David and Jeff were both still working) and enjoyed a lovely classical music concert in the Church of St. Salvator (one of the Klementinum cathedrals). The acoustics in churches are amazing – a six piece string ensemble sounds like a much larger orchestra!

The next day my work would start at 3pm, but Tami, Charlie, and I met up again for the morning. We visited the Illusion Art Gallery where we had fun playing with perspective.

We then walked to the Municipal Library where we saw the book well sculpture, which is actually also an illusion artwork!

We had crammed in so many things for these first days, that the rest of the week, I pretty much took it easy in the mornings before working for the afternoon and evenings. David had a lot going on and was working 14 hour days while we were here, so he was very much looking forward to a well-deserved week off as we headed to Portugal!

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Seattle and Baltimore

Our visit to Seattle was only a few days, just for a work event for David, so we didn’t have much chance to see people while we were there. Coincidentally Mum and Dad were in the city living on their new boat on Lake Union while it was being shown in the Seattle Boat Show. Since I work on east coast time while we’re in Seattle, I was able to take one afternoon to visit with them and finally was able to see English Rose!

David and I had decided not to extend our visit to Seattle into the weekend because the weather was looking good for the weekend and we thought that there would be a chance to be able to do the New Jersey coast and Delaware River portion of the cruise south – the only required exposed open-ocean section, which really requires a 2-day weather window (when we are going slow to conserve diesel!). We took a red-eye out of Seattle late on Friday evening and landed back in New Jersey early Saturday morning. We dinghied back to the boat and essentially immediately cast off from the mooring.

The weather was predicted to turn later on Sunday, so we were glad for the plans we had made. The weather remained good on Saturday and our cruise down the New Jersey coast was uneventful, which is exactly how you want it to be!

We made good time, and with weather predicted to turn south later in the day (and into Sunday), we decided to keep going as far up the Delaware as possible rather than stop in Cape May for the night. We pulled into our anchorage just after sunset, and completed setting the anchor minutes before last light. After a quick dinner, we went straight to bed, completely exhausted!

Having gotten so far up the Delaware the night before, we were able to get a bit of a later start on Sunday and completed our cruise up the Delaware and through the C&D canal, arriving at Baltimore just before dinner time. We arrived on fumes, both tanks showing 0% as we pulled into the fuel dock. Our injection pump issues are getting worse, and so even our hull speed fuel usage was significantly higher than it should have been, and all of our usual fuel math with safe margin is no longer applicable. We’re hoping to get this repaired while we’re in the Baltimore area for a while.

We had made arrangements to stay at Baltimore for the next several weeks – to complete some boat projects, hang out with a bunch of other Endeavour owners who also happen to be here as well, and have a safe place to leave Highwind as we do some additional work travel. It has been lovely to be in one place – where I can do in-person grocery shopping and we can actually get to know the area! I even found a local pole studio and have been able to take several classes there!

One of the major projects that we have done while here is to replace the gas stove with an induction stove. I love cooking on gas, but it is safer not to have propane running through the interior of the boat and with the power system on the boat, I do not have to generate just to use the electric stove. It has been quite an adventure replacing my pots and pans with an induction-compatible set that doesn’t buzz. I also gave David a haircut – although I realized that he could just as easily have found a professional on land!

There are quite a few power cats at the marina, and a large number of them are Endeavours. We organized a potluck one evening with everyone who was in town and then listened to the live music that they have on the dock here every Saturday night.

On the weekend, we decided to visit the old ships museum with Russ and Jax, where we were able to tour a Coast Guard vessel (the last floating ship to have survived the attack on Pearl Harbor), a submarine, and a tall ship. Each ship was almost fully open and the exhibits within were really well done.

We visited a local brewery, Ministry of Brewing, with Russ and Jax that is in a renovated church.

Of course we also checked out a local escape room with Russ and Jax and escaped with plenty of time to spare!

The weather here has been progressively getting worse and colder, and we’ve had several days of rain, which are the remnants of Hurricane Ian passing over us. We’ve been watching news of the devastation in Florida – several marinas that were destroyed were ones we visited while we cruised down the west coast of Florida completing our loop.

Jan and Jim joined us for a Sunday afternoon, where we ate lunch at what accidentally turned out to be a sports bar in the middle of a Baltimore Ravens game! Everyone here is serious about their football :). We then enjoyed an afternoon catching up on the boat, drinking hot drinks and avoiding the cold weather!

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New York with My Brother

Highwind and the Skyline

Ever since we moved onto the boat, Matthew and I had been talking about how cool it would be for him to be able to visit New York with us. Then Covid and other life-busyness happened, but this year we managed to make it work. It was great exploring Long Island Sound with Matthew, but the original purpose of his visit was to be able to have a weekend together in NYC. I decided to take Friday off so that we could hang out together.

The past couple of times we’ve driven by NYC, I’ve been on work calls and essentially missed this cruise, which is one of my favourites! It’s always amazing to be cruising in your home down past all the familiar landmarks. It was particularly special to be able to share this with Matthew!

We had woken up early to make this cruise for two reasons – one being the tide at Hell’s Gate – a narrow passage near the north of the East River, and two to go a little past the Brooklyn marina in order to be able to get “the shot” of the statue of liberty with Matthew. David was working, so we needed to be able to do this before his first meeting started.

After snapping this photo, we turned around and headed straight to the marina where we were delayed a few minutes by another boat exiting, but managed to pull into our slip with about 1 minute before David’s first call began. Matthew and I got us settled into the marina with power etc. and then he and I set off to find us some lunch. We decided to walk from the marina over the Brooklyn Bridge – very touristy!

We grabbed some pizza after that and returned to the boat to feed David. For Dinner, Matthew wanted to experience NYC Sushi, so we were able to make reservations at Ondo Omikase. OpenTable said it was BYOB, which we thought was a little weird, but I packed a bottle of sake and a really nice rose (Mum and Dad – it was Azur) in my backpack and we headed out for the evening.

It turned out that they had been open for only a month and didn’t yet have their liquor license! Because we were there a little later in the evening, after David had finished his work calls, we essentially got our own private chef with whom we chatted while he made us AMAZING sushi.

On Saturday afternoon, we had booked an escape room. The room was really well done, and we escaped with only about 4 minutes left on hard mode. It turned out that our game master was relatively new and we were his first group to have escaped that room!

We escaped!

For dinner, we had reservations at Atera, a 2-michelin star restaurant that is one of David and my favourites. We were excited to share the experience with Matthew. The meal did not disappoint and we enjoyed a lovely evening together.

On Sunday, Matthew and I had tickets to go and see a matinee show. We had made reservations for lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar for lunch before the show. David was going to come with us, but the weather was not great, and since he wasn’t joining us for the show afterwards he decided to stay on the boat (more time playing video games!).

Lunch was across the street from Central Park, so we decided to do a quick walk through the park before heading to the theatre.

Central Park in a little rain

The past couple of years I have been going through a mourning period after deciding to “break up with” Harry Potter due to JK Rowling’s views on the definition of “women”. Since the Harry Potter play was Matthew’s particular request for what show to see, I decided to make this one exception. David and I had gone to see it in London when it opened when it was a 2-night event. The play is now condensed into one night. Many of the amazing stage magical elements were still in the show, though the plot now moves incredibly quickly. I was incredibly conflicted during the experience, which is such a shame that something that used to bring me such joy and wonder has been tainted by something so harmful. However, I still enjoyed the time hanging out with my brother.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

After the show, David joined us in Manhattan and we grabbed a casual bite for dinner after a weekend filled with excessive food experiences! After dinner, we wanted to have a cocktail, so we found a bar nearby, which turned out to be attached to a swanky movie theatre, and also had a live 5-piece jazz band. We then went back to the escape room place to do their other two rooms! Overall it was a fabulous weekend in the city with Matthew.

On Monday morning, we said goodbye to Matthew, who was headed into Manhattan to spend the morning at Accenture’s office before catching his flight home. David and I were headed to New Jersey, where we would be leaving the boat on a mooring in Sandy Hook as we flew to Seattle in the evening for a work trip for David.

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Newport to New York with Matthew

We arrived in Newport on Friday morning of Labor Day weekend, with plans for my brother Matthew to meet us Saturday evening and stay for a week. As per Matthew’s usual curse, a few days earlier, our convection microwave/oven had decided to spontaneously perish, and we were having a hell of a time finding a replacement less than 2 weeks away. David eventually managed to find an appliance store a few towns over with one in their warehouse that they could get in stock on Friday, so the first stop after arriving was taking an Uber out to pick up the new microwave, since David had the day off work.

David has been wanting to re-organize the back lazarette storage for a while, so on Saturday morning we took a trip to Home Depot to pick up some new storage crates. As with any organization project, everything is always much messier before it is clean again!

After some flight delays and last minute plane changes, Matthew finally arrived around midnight. The next day, I cooked a full English breakfast on the boat, and then we set off to do the mansion cliff walk. When David and I were here last time, we just walked along the cliffs, but didn’t go into any of the open-to-the-public mansions. This time, we decided to visit the Breakers, which is supposed to be the grandest of all of them. This was the summer “cottage” for the Rockefeller family. I was expecting it to be extremely garish in it’s luxuriousness, but it was actually incredibly tastefully beautiful. Each room’s theme was carefully thought out and exquisitely executed.

When we returned to the boat, our original plan was to visit a brewery before our dinner reservations, but it turned out we didn’t really have enough time, so we decided to open a bottle of champagne on the boat instead. David did take a photo of this, but it is so bad that I cannot publish it!

With it being Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, I had had a hard time finding any dinner reservations for a party of 3. We ended up with reservations at the Dining Room in the Vanderbilt. We had a fabulous table in the corner and we had an absolutely fantastic meal there.

The next morning, we left Newport and headed for Block Island where we would be meeting up with John and Joan on their new boat Tryst (their first ever power boat!). Block Island is a very popular Labor Day spot, but most people leave the island on Monday, and as we were approaching the island, people were indeed leaving in droves. As a result, the harbor was relatively empty when we arrived and we had no problem finding a mooring. However, as soon as we were set up, we discovered from the harbormaster that we were actually on one that was too small for our boat and we were instructed to move. Matthew hopped on the dinghy while we located the right mooring!

Matthew on the dinghy

We headed to land for lunch at “The Oar” with John and Joan, after which we walked around to the main town where Joan had recommended that we get a taxi to give us a tour of the island. Near the ferry terminal we found a taxi driver who agreed to take us around. We learned a lot about the island, including how they had moved the lighthouse (necessary due to cliff erosion). We were able to get out at the cliffs and take in the amazing view.

The taxi driver dropped us off at the dinghy dock and we did a quick stop to take a tour of Tryst before heading back to Highwind. For the evening, David had found a ghost tour of the island called “Spirits with Spirits” that was essentially a pub crawl with ghost stories. John and Joan joined us, so we went for an early dinner first, and then did the tour, which was fun!

We had only planned to stay at Block Island for the one day as we wanted to get to New York for the following weekend and it looked like there was some bad weather coming in, so on Tuesday morning, we left early and did a long ride to Port Jefferson. We had a bit of a bumpy ride leaving Block Island, and apparently went through an incredibly large standing wave in The Gut where we nose dived a rush of water over the bow. I missed all this as I was downstairs on a call (rolling all over the place in my office chair!). Once we turned the corner, the water had some protection from the wind by the tip of the island and the remainder of our ride was calm. However, the weather was pretty gloomy and it rained all evening, so we stayed on the boat for the night.

The next day, the weather cleared a bit, so after I finished working, Matthew and I headed into town and hung out at a brewery while we waited for David to finish his work day. We then met up with Russ and Jax for an amazing Indian dinner at a local restaurant.

The next day we cruised to Port Washington where we again did not get off the boat due to rain and bad weather, though Jax sent me a lovely picture of Highwind at sunset.

Luckily good weather was forecasted for the weekend and I had planned to take Friday off so that I could spend a long weekend in the city with Matthew, so on Friday morning, we left Port Washington and headed towards New York!

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