Blog posts

May the Boat Cat

May was with us for more than 5 years. This is a celebration of that time.

Me: “Bennett, what’s this black cat doing in the house?”

Bennett: “Oh, that’s May. You know, from Mom’s house. Since Mom sold the house, she can’t keep May anymore. She’ll only be here until we can find another home for her.”

Me: “Yeah, I know who May is. Well, I guess she can stay here until we find her a good home.”

And so began our five year relationship with the best kitty ever. (You may think you have, or have had, a good kitty, and I won’t argue. But May was the BEST kitty ever.) We never found another home for her, because, to be blunt, she HATED other animals, and everyone we knew who would love to have her already had at least one other pet. After a few months of trying – and a few months of her sitting on my lap for what seemed like hours every day – one day I said to Fran “Well, I don’t suppose it would be horrible to have her on the boat.”

Feb 2016, a couple months after she moved in to the Indy house. Looking at this picture now, it should have been obvious that we were going to be her forever family.

So she came on the boat, and became “May the Boat Cat”. (Also known as MayMay, Maybelline, Sweet May, Maybelle, “our sweet little old lady cat”, The Princess, sometimes The Queen, and my personal favorite, Honey Bunny.) The first time she set foot on the boat, it took her all of about 6 seconds to settle in. We brought her in during a driving rainstorm, set her on the floor, ran back to the car for another load of stuff, and when we returned, there she was, stretched out on the carpet with a “yeah, this will do” air about her that never changed over five years.

Well, she didn’t love EVERY minute of boat life. There was that first time she made a long crossing – about 8 hours, from Florida to the Bahamas, March 1, 2018. It was a bit rough, and before too long, this pretty little black kitty looked positively green. By the end of the rough part of the day, she was stretched out on the cool clay in her litter box, with her tongue slightly hanging out, and drooling a little. Think of your worst New Year’s Day hangover.

But the next day, off we went for another 10 hours (on totally flat seas, thankfully), and she behaved as if the day before had never happened. And that’s pretty much how she was for most of the 4,000+ miles she was with us on Smartini: over a year in Florida, 8 months in the Bahamas, 4 months in Turks and Caicos, many months in the Virgin Islands, and all the way to Grenada and back, with a stop or two in every island nation along the way. Oh, sure, once in a while, when it was a little rough, she’d give us her famous stink-eye as if to say “You couldn’t have waited for a little nicer weather?”, but most of the time, she was just sleeping in one of her comfy spots, whether the boat was moving or not.

Perfectly at home on the water. With our almost-niece Abby, in Grenada.

She began life as Maddie and Bennett’s cat, at their mom’s house in Indianapolis, when Maddie was 7 and Bennet was 4. She was an indoor / outdoor cat there, and we would see her outside sometimes when we would pick up or drop off the kids, but for all those years, she was just a cat at someone else’s house. That changed in December 2015 when the exchange between Bennett and me, above, occurred. The change started slowly, but it wasn’t long before Fran and I grew very fond of this little old lady cat.

I am pleased to say that she loved me more than anyone else. I don’t know why, though. Fran did EVERYTHING for her – fed her, kept her litter box clean, cleaned up after her when she horked up a hairball, bought her toys, bought her favorite hangout (the “Treat Perch” – more on that later), and in the last year, would make tiny bites of whatever she was eating to satisfy May’s very-late-in-life interest in human food. But although May clearly loved Fran, she would get up from Fran’s lap and the petting she was receiving to come sit on me, as soon as I sat down, nine times out of ten. Fran was “the help”, and I was her human. I am so very lucky.

May made a lot of friends in her five years with us, but I don’t think anyone was a bigger fan than Benjy Ellis, who we met while cruising the Eastern Caribbean. He lives with his parents Jason and Kim on their sailing catamaran, Mimzy. Benjy would come onto Smartini for the express purpose of spending time with May, and she loved it!

Benjy and May. She loved her time with you, Benjy!

However, in a very, very close second place comes Zoe Fisher, who came all the way from Australia with her parents, Claire and Anthony, to spend a week with “May the Cat”. (Zoe thought that was her name, and called her that all week.)

This picture is from a 30 second video of Zoe playing with May with the “feather on a string”. May played, but she never moved from her spot, and really never did more than lift her head and forepaws. She was, shall we say, an “efficient” player.

We said, many times during her stay with us, that she had virtually none of the bad habits that many cats have, and that she did exactly what we both wanted from a cat – sit on our laps when we wanted her to, and let us pet her. She never insisted on that (although she would often suggest it!). She never knocked things over just because she could. She was fully clawed, but rarely scratched anything other than the carpet (which we hate anyway). Until a few months ago, she rarely made a sound – if she said “meow!”, you better see what was going on, because it was unusual. She didn’t have the loudest motor in the world, but she purred almost all the time when she was on your lap and/or being petted.

May “suggesting” that I should put the computer away and pet her.

She had a particular dislike of dogs, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, but she did grow up with a dog (Maddie’s “Skip”). Just after we arrived in the Bahamas in March 2018, we met some people on another boat and invited them for dinner and dominoes one evening. They brought their little dog Bailey, who was very well behaved – didn’t even eat May’s food. We put May in our room while they were there, and all was well. The following morning, May was in our room meowing up a storm, which was VERY unusual for her. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong – she had food, she had water, what could it be? But Fran dumped out her water bowl and washed it, then refilled it and set it down. May drank like she had been in the desert for a month! Bailey must have drank some of her water, and May did NOT want to drink from the same bowl that a slobbery dog drank from! From that point on, we never talked to her about a dog without saying “slobbery dog”.

One minor flaw: she did have Bitchy Resting Face, or as we liked to call it, Stink Eye. As you can see in the picture below – a picture taken when she was perfectly happy, I can assure you – she could make you feel as if you had done something so horrible, so loathsome, that you didn’t deserve to be breathing the same air as her.

Stink eye!

During the five years that she was with us, she wasn’t with us all the time. She lived with Susan and Rami in Indianapolis for a few months in 2016. Susan was the one who discovered that May hated to sit on bare skin! She would put a thick towel on her lap in the middle of summer so The Princess could sit on her, and not be grossed out by Susan’s bare legs. May lived with Robin for several weeks when we lost Maddie. Robin learned first-hand how temperature-driven May was, in her very air conditioned apartment, when May would sleep right on her chest, staring into her face with a “does it have to be SO COLD in here?” posture.

With Susan. No bare skin in Indy in November!

We weren’t always on the boat, either. Paul and Denise flew all the way to George Town, Bahamas from Minnesota in May 2018 to spend a month on the boat with May, while we went to Italy. Brian The Pet Sitter cat-sat with her in Key West for a few weeks in November 2017. A woman (whose name escapes me – maybe because she let May escape the boat!) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in the US Virgin Islands in 2019. Peter the Turtle Man (manager of Nassau Harbour Club Marina) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in Nassau, Bahamas. (We paid one of the dock hands to do it, but Peter liked May so much, he came onboard twice a day to sit with her and give her treats.) In Grenada, Lamar cat-sat with her for a month in November 2019. In all these cases, it went like this: the sitter came onboard the first time and sat down, May hopped in their lap for petting and treates, and they were buddies. She was like that.

With Lamar, who came onboard twice every day for a month to look after Sweet May.

After she had lived on the boat for a bit, Fran noticed that there was nowhere May could sit and see outside. She searched online and found a window perch for a cat, and put it in one of the side windows, but May wasn’t interested. Fran was determined, and by then, May had already become quite a big fan of Friskies Party Mix and Temptations, so Fran used these treats to lure May into the perch. May quickly learned to love the perch, in part because it was a soft place to sleep in the sun, but also very much because she had a good chance of someone giving her a few treats if she sat there long enough and looked cute.

“Well, what are you waiting for? The treats are right there!”

Speaking of cute… if you aren’t a cat person, skip this paragraph, OK? You’ll want to vomit a little, probably. But when May would curl up in the Treat Perch, or in one of the chairs, or on the floor, or especially in your lap, in a perfect circle, with one paw over her nose, and her tail covering most of her face… she was SO DAMNED CUTE! But she never let us get a picture of that perfect moment – she would wake up and move just before we could snap the shot.

Could she be any cuter? And all she’s doing is sleeping. We never tired of seeing it.

You might wonder what it was like doing all the paperwork and jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a pet into all of those countries (18 in all). Well, you’d have to ask someone else, because we did it only once, and it was such a nightmare that we decided to simply not declare her again. And we didn’t. She never left the boat*, so it didn’t matter anyway. Many countries wouldn’t even ask on their forms. Some did, but didn’t follow-up with a question asked by an agent. Some did, and I would just lie. Sorry. Throw me in jail for cat smuggling.

(* She did hop off the boat several times in the marina in Turks and Caicos, but that was the one country into which we legally checked her in. She also escaped from the boat in the US Virgin Islands for a few days while we were gone, but there’s no special requirement for a US citizen to bring a pet into the US Virgin Islands. And yes, she did hop off the boat in San Salvador, Bahamas for just a few minutes, but our story in the Bahamas, if asked, was always going to be “We picked her on the dock in Freeport – she’s a Bahamian cat.”)

I mentioned that May was already 14 years old when she came to live with us, in December 2015. (Coincidentally, the same month we bought the boat.) Yes, she was an old lady: 19 in cat years is the equivalent of 94 in human years. But until literally yesterday, no one would have guessed her to be of such an advanced age. She didn’t look old. She didn’t act old. She had her sight and her hearing, and she was a good jumper (almost always in the case of jumping onto a lap sitting in a tall chair).

She had no trouble jumping into my lap on the tall captain’s chair. I bet she did it a hundred times.

Almost a year ago, right after the COVID situation started heating up, we were in the Virgin Islands, and May had pretty much stopped eating. We took her to the vet on St. Thomas, who did some blood work and determined that her kidneys were failing – a common malady among geriatric cats. But the vet showed us how to administer fluids “subcutaneously” (with a needle under her skin), and told us that some cats can live for many extra years with this treatment, to make up for what the kidneys have stopped doing. May, being the best kitty ever, took that needle under the skin and 200 ml of saline solution every four days since then, and almost never complained about it. Her appetite returned – and then some! For the first time ever, she started to act interested in what Fran and I were eating. Eager to get her to eat anything, we started giving her small bites of our chicken, beef, pork, fish – all of which she eagerly devoured – except the fish. That developed into her only bad habit – begging for food at the table. (Sorry, Chris – you saw her at her worst in this respect.) But hey, she was an old lady – let her have what she wants! (As Fran has said many times, “When I’m 94, I hope someone lets ME eat cake for dinner!”)

Cuddling with “the help” in one of the dozens of different beds we slept in this summer.

This summer, back in the US, and with the boat “hauled out” for hurricane season, we bought a used minivan and started touring the country. With our limited experience of having May in the car (she didn’t like it!), we would have liked to have left her with someone, but we couldn’t ask anyone to take on the “stick her with a needle and administer 200 ml of fluids every four days” routine. So Fran made a rolling version of the Treat Perch in the van, between the front seats, and off we all went! 15,000 miles, 34 states, at least 20 friends’ homes visited, and May was with us the whole time. Florida to Maine and back to Florida. Then off to Texas and Colorado and Nevada and California and Oregon and Idaho and Indiana and all the states in between. May would typically be restless and mouthy for the first hour or two each day on the road, but would eventually settle in and sleep like the dead for most of the last several hours. The only bad stretch was our one overnight, from Houston, TX to Fort Collins, CO. She never settled in, and was still unhappy and restless and mouthy when we finally pulled into a rest stop for a nap at 5:00 a.m. One of the longest nights of my life. But it was worth it to have her with us all summer.

Helping with the driving of the 15,000 miles to 34 states this summer.

Because of her hatred of other animals, and because many of the friends and family we visited have other animals, she was often relegated to the bedroom we were using. Which wasn’t bad – being an old lady cat, she slept all day anyway. But when our hosts had no pets, and she could have free reign of a house, she seemed to truly enjoy it. Her favorite place was Beth and Pat’s place in Maine – a large, two-story-plus-attic home built in the 1890’s. She would come down from the attic covered with cobwebs, and looking totally pleased with herself.

“Beth and Pat, your attic is now free of cobwebs!”

At Susan and Rami’s house in Indy, she really wanted to go outside, so we tried a little harness and leash. Yeah… that didn’t work out so well.

“I’ll just sit here until you take this ridiculous thing off of me.”

In early November, while visiting friends Dean and Kim in Idaho, Fran noticed that May was suddenly acting a little strange. Almost as if she couldn’t see everything that was going on around her, surprised when we would walk up to her to pet her. The next night, in a hotel room in Wyoming on our way to Fort Collins, CO, it got worse, and by the time we arrived in Fort Collins the following day, it was obvious – May had become totally blind! We were at Fran’s sister Ingrid’s house, and Ingrid has a house full of pets, so she has a great and long-term relationship with a local vet. She called, and we were able to get May in that same day. Yep, she was blind, alright. One of the problems with feline kidney failure is high blood pressure, which we didn’t know, but which May had. And one of the problems with high blood pressure in cats is “hypertensive retinopathy” – detached retinas caused by high blood pressure. They gave her some BP meds and sent us home, with at least the hope that the retinas would reattach and the vision return. Those were some sad hours, sitting with her, knowing that she must be totally confused about why her world was suddenly completely dark, and not knowing if it would ever be any better for her. There were tears shed, I don’t mind telling you. But the blood pressure DID come down, and the retinas DID reattach, and within 36 hours, she was seeing almost normally again! To say that we were happy would be the understatement of the year. We were overjoyed, knowing that our little old lady May was back to normal, and no longer suffering. Although through it all, she never made a sound, never reacted badly when we would pick her up – she just stared around the room, with eyes that wouldn’t see. It was one of the saddest things either of us have ever seen.

We arrived back in Florida after Thanksgiving, and still had to put the boat back together after the summer’s haulout. Our friend Chris offered his spare bedroom to us, and all three of us were happy to take him up on it. We ended up spending seven weeks there, enjoying Chris’s amazing cooking and hospitality, most of the time with May having the run of the house, which she enjoyed immensely. But she had picked up another slightly annoying habit of waking us up about 6:30 every morning to be fed. See, it’s really hard to give a cat a pill, but May needed a tiny little pill of BP medicine once per day. With advice from dear friends Curt and Sondra, we started giving May the cheap Publix canned food, and putting her little pill, all crushed up, into the food. (They have a 20+ year old cat who wouldn’t eat ANYTHING until they tried the Publx food, and now she eats 3 cans a day!) Well, May LOVED IT! So every morning, when her little kitty brain told her it was time for breakfast, she was on the bed, walking over both of us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that one of us needed to get up and fix her breakfast NOW! (Which we did, because, you know, she’s a little old lady.)

We were very comfortable at Chris’s house for the last seven weeks.

A week ago today, we finally got the boat back in the water, and two days later, we all moved back onboard. It took May a day to settle in, but she did, and for about three days, all was good. She was back in the Treat Perch a dozen times a day, sitting on our laps for petting in the evenings, and yelling for us to get her breakfast ready at 6:30 a.m.

And then yesterday, Fran noticed that May was acting a little weird, and in fact, saw her having what looked like a mini seizure, a couple of different times. Last evening, we saw it again, so this morning, we took her to the vet. (The aforementioned Curt is a vet in Melbourne, FL, about an hour up the road from where we are in Ft. Pierce.) After an exam and some blood work, Curt called with the bad news. Her kidneys were on the verge of total shutdown, and there was nothing we could do that would restore her to normal. She could have a blood transfusion, and hormone therapy, but even that would only prolong her life, not restore the quality of it. So an hour later, after a last long bit of cuddling and petting and telling her how much we loved her, we said our final “Bye, May”. And she went to sleep on my lap, where she had spent so many countless hours over the past 5 years, and we cried.

February 5, 2021

If you want to look at a couple hundred pictures of May, we’ve shared this Google Photos Album, May the Boat Cat. None of them are spectacular images, but we sure are enjoying looking at them today.

Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!

We’ve been wanting to visit Dominica for a long time – ever since we started planning this Big Adventure severeal years ago, and looking at the islands individually. Fran, in particular, has wanted to see it. A few weeks ago, we did, and we were not disappointed! I think it’s the most beautiful island we’ve visited – it’s so green and lush, the word “jungle” is always on your mind as you travel around. But the waterfalls – WOW WOW WOW!!! We walked / hiked / swam to seven, and every one was just gorgeous – and one was, for me, maybe the most beautiful natural feature I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world. (Eric McKinley, I know you like hiking to waterfalls – you NEED to go to Dominica!)

Trafalgar Falls – this is Papa. Look close to see the person, to give an idea of the size.
Continue reading “Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!”

Grenada

Look at the attached map of the Eastern Caribbean, and you’ll see that Grenada (not Granada – that’s in Spain!) is almost as far south as you can go without hitting South America. Trinidad and Tobago are the very last islands before Venezuela, but because of security concerns, we decided to skip them. That means Grenada is likely the farthest south we’ll get on this Big Adventure, even if we finally make it down the coast in the Western Caribbean. For you map nerds, we saw 11 degrees, 59 minutes North as we came around the southern part of the island, and at that point, we were 1,443 nautical miles (1,659 “normal” miles) from Satellite Beach, our Florida home for the twelve years before departing. According to Smartini’s electronic charting system, we traveled about 3,920 miles to get there, so there has been a lot of side-tripping and revisiting favorite places along the way, but that was the whole point of the trip, after all.

We spent all of October in Grenada, then went to the US for 32 days to visit friends and family all over the country. We returned to Grenada for a little more than two weeks, before leaving there on Christmas Eve, beginning our long, slow trek back north. (We spent over a week in Bequia – it’s a favorite spot! – then a few days on St. Vincent, and now we’re exploring St. Lucia.)

We liked Grenada – Fran liked it A LOT! It’s the first island we’ve been to so far that’s green and lush and beautiful for its peaks (the tallest is 2,756 feet), rainforest, and waterfalls, and it’s covered with hundreds, maybe thousands, of species of tropical plants. Everywhere you look you see bamboo, bananas, papayas, coconuts, nutmeg, sugar cane, cocoa, mangos, and flowers of every color, shape and size. The people are mostly friendly to tourists, although tourism is only their fourth largest source of revenue. They make delicious chocolate on antique equipment, and rum (that tastes like paint thinner!) on ancient equipment. We did our first Hash while we were there (see “Hash House Harriers” – it’s a drinking club with a running problem) – they do one almost every Saturday, and have been doing it for over 30 years! We got to meet and hang out with a bunch of cool boat people (virtually all of them sailors, but we’ve grown fond of them). We got to spend time with two couples we’ve met along the way who we dearly love – Max and Whitey on Nutmeg, and Paul and Liz on Oneiro. And we finally got to have a visit from my almost-niece Abby, who dealt with all the vagaries that boat life could throw at her, from a dead main engine to missing a flight home, like the world-class traveler that she is.

So here’s Grenada, in pictures!

Our very first stop after Customs and Immigration! It’s not Intra nor Deviate, but at least they had something other than island lager!
With Liz and Paul from Oneiro, at the Container Park. So many shipping containers come to the islands with nothing to put in them for the trip back, that they end up getting left on the islands and used for all kinds of things – like an entire food court made of them!
L to R: Butch, Max (Nutmeg), Fran, Paul (Oneiro), Whitey (Nutmeg), and Liz (Oneiro). We’ve met some great people on this Big Adventure, but none finer than these four!
At the completion of the Hash (a 30 – 40 minute run through the bush, across streams, gardens, etc.). This was the 1,109th Hash since the Grenada Hash House Harriers started well over 20 years ago.
Some of the local fare they served after the Hash. Green bananas (or maybe it’s breadfruit?), manicu (possum), and iguana.
Fran’s been saying for years she wants to see monkeys. While we did see one in the wild, this guy was caged up, and it’s a good thing – he stole Fran’s phone right after she took this picture! Good thing it wouldn’t fit through the fencing, or we’d have been out one phone.
Concorde Falls – you can drive right to it!
This is a cocoa pod, full of the seeds (beans?) that are processed into chocolate. There are at least two chocolate makers on Grenada, and they also export a lot of the dried cocoa seeds to other countries who make their own chocolate with it.
Just one of the many types of chocolate that Jouvay makes.
Grenada has an interesting recent history (1970’s and 1980’s), during which they overthrew a virtual dictator and installed a new government, which then failed 5 years later when the Prime Minister was killed after a major split in the government. During those 5 years, Cuba was sending them aid, and of course, the Soviet Union was supporting Cuba. This Soviet plane, and another from the same era, are all that are left at the original airport, which is now used as an informal dragstrip and livestock pasture.
They dress fairly conservatively on most of the Caribbean islands.
A dinghy full of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. We had at least 20 dinghies full, with at least 75 kids in costume. Paul and Liz (Oneiro) joined forces with us to handle them all.
Jamar came onboard twice every day and took care of May while we were in the US for 32 days in November. He sent us pictures of May every few days, but she didn’t seem too interested in the photo shoots.
Fran carries a small bag of cat treats (the ones May doesn’t like!) with her whenever we’re out and about, so she can win the affection (or at least the attention) of all the island kitties. A few minutes before this photo, this cat was happily eating Cheetos that our driver had tossed to her.
This 178 year old water wheel turns the machinery that crushes sugar cane. The cane is fed into the crusher by hand, and as you can see in the background, the husks are hauled off by hand, too. The cane juice is fermented, then distilled into rum, then immediately bottled and sold – not one day of aging! They make – and sell – about 500 bottles every day. At 142 proof, t’s the definition of “firewater”.
The cane crusher that’s turned by the water wheel.
Moving the crushed cane husks out of the way for drying. After they’re dry enough, they’re burned to provide the heat for the distilling process.
The cane juice is fermented in open air vats, and then distilled. This is the last vat before distilling.
Butch, Elon (our distillery guide), Fran, Abby, and Curtis (our driver and island tour guide).
Roasted cocoa beans are sorted by hand – these ladies are looking for any bad ones, which go into the triangular hole in the corner of their “desk”.
One of two or three presses that are used to squeeze the chocolate nibs until every bit of oil (cocoa butter) is separated from the dry powder. Later in the process, they add some of the butter back to make the chocolate more creamy.
Nutmeg, fresh off the tree. The outer husk is used like mulch. The red lacy “wrapper” is called mace and is also used as a spice. The actual nutmeg spice is the seed in the center. It’s a very important export for Grenada, and the main reason it’s called The Spice Island.
Buying a squash (which they call “pumpkin”) that we later made into a delicious soup. Notice the two signs in front of the truck: “No Parking” and “No Vending”. Ha!
Abby, my almost-niece, on the aft deck with May.
Walking up to the fort that guards the entrance to the harbour. The town of St. George (aka St. George’s) is in the background. It’s Grenada’s largest town by far.
At Annandale Falls.
A giant tree on the marina property. See me in the picture? It must be a thousand years old.
On the north end of Grenada is an “exclusion zone” for boaters – where an underwater volcano is. If the volcano were to start emitting gas, the water would get very bubbly, and any boat in that water would sink like a stone! Smartini is the red arrow, as we skirted past, just outside the danger zone.

So that’s Grenada! We liked it – I hope you did, too!

DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 3 – The Software

This is my third and final post about using inexpensive microcontrollers to gather boat data and send it to Signal K. The first one was an overview, the second one detailed the hardware involved, and this one will detail the software.

There are two main bits of software involved – the Signal K Server, and what I’ll refer to as the Sensor Software. This post deals only with the Sensor Software – the software that is installed on the microcontroller to gather data from the sensors and then send it, over wifi, to the Signal K Server software. The Signal K Server software is most likely running on a Raspberry Pi, and you can read all about it on the Signal K website. For purposes of this post, I will simply assume you have the Signal K Server up and running, and that you did a standard installation of it.

Continue reading “DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 3 – The Software”

DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 2 – The Hardware

(This post was originally published on the Signal K Blog site in August 2019. http://signalk.org/2019/08/20/sensors-part-2.html It was written as part of a 3-article series. I decided to post all three of them on the Smartini Life blog. If you’re not a bit of a nerd, this may not be your cup of tea.)

In a previous blog post, I wrote in general terms about using small, inexpensive microcontrollers to gather all kinds of data around your boat and make it available on your boat’s network through Signal K. In this post, I’m going to describe, in detail, the device I built and deployed on my boat to gather and report four temperatures from my main engine. I hope it’s detailed enough so that you could duplicate the project yourself. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of doing this yourself – this was only my second ever real microcontroller project – it’s not complicated.

In this post, I’ll detail the hardware aspect of the device, and will address the software details in the next post.

Continue reading “DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 2 – The Hardware”

DIY Sensors with Signal K

(This post was originally published on the Signal K Blog site in August 2019. http://signalk.org/2019/08/04/sensesp-sensors.html It was written as part of a 3-article series. The next one in the series is here: http://signalk.org/2019/08/20/sensors-part-2.html I decided to post all three of them on the Smartini Life blog. If you’re not a bit of a nerd, this may not be your cup of tea.)

When we bought our 14 year old trawler in 2016, I knew I wanted to improve the instrumentation. Not only the obvious things (chart plotter, radar, sonar, etc.), but also data about the engine that would alert me to a problem long before the engine started coming apart. At the Miami Boat Show, I stumbled across the Digital Yacht booth, where they were showing some equipment that used a new marine data standard called Signal K. It would let you see all the data from your boat’s data network (NMEA 0183 and 2000) on any smartphone, tablet, or computer screen, via wifi. “COOL!”, I thought!

Continue reading “DIY Sensors with Signal K”

Work, Work, Work II

It’s often said among boaters that cruising is “fixing your boat in exotic places”. At times, it certainly feels that way. In August, while we were in Sint Maarten, we “hauled out” for 16 days to get a number of boat projects done, and this is the report of that haul out, and of the several other projects we’ve completed since then. My standard warning for all posts like this is that they’re probably not very interesting to many of you, and you won’t offend me by not reading them. (The original “Work, Work, Work” post, from early 2018, is here.)

Continue reading “Work, Work, Work II”

We Made it to Grenada!

When we left Florida on the Big Adventure on March 1, 2018, we were hoping to eventually make it to Grenada, which is one of the last islands in the Caribbean before South America. Yesterday, we made it!

We spent two months in St. Martin (French) / Sint Maarten (Dutch), where we hauled Smartini out of the water for 16 days and completed a lot of projects. (That will be the subject of another post.) But by the middle of September, we were getting tired of worrying about the next Tropical Wave spinning off the coast of Africa – was it going to come our way? Would it develop into a Tropical Storm, or a hurricane, and would it visit St. M? Would we be in a safe enough place to avoid damage? We decided to get while the gettin’ was good, and a forecast of calm weather for a week or more was all we needed.

Continue reading “We Made it to Grenada!”

The Picture of Dorian: Gray

A quick tropical storm update for those following along at home: Dorian is passing by Sint Maarten as close as it’s going to get as I type this – about 90 nautical miles (104 regular miles). Winnie the Pooh would describe today as “blustery”, which you can see in the picture. Unless the storm takes a radical right turn in the next few hours, we’ll come through it unscathed.

We’re “on the hard” right now – hauled out in a boat yard, for some routine under-the-waterline maintenance. Today marks two weeks since the haul out, and if the weather today doesn’t hinder the bottom painters’ progress, we’ll be back in the water tomorrow. We finally got smart and decided not to stay on Smartini during the haul out – airbnb to the rescue! It’s nice to get away from the boat each day after 6 – 8 hours of sweaty dirty work and have a nice pool to cool off in, then a real shower to get clean in, and air conditioning to sleep in. May is diggin’ it, for sure.

Our friends Max and Whitey, who run charters on a big sailing catamaran (Nutmeg), took the boat to the Southern Caribbean (St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada) for hurricane season. They’ve done some dashing around down there to dodge Dorian over the last few days.

Our friends Jim and Kathy Booth, who have a sail cat (Moondance) at their home in Palm Coast, FL, are now in the bullseye of Dorian’s projected path.

Our friends Beth and Pat Winkler, who have a trawler (Olaf) and spend their summers on it in Maine, are currently watching Tropical Storm Erin, hoping it doesn’t veer west and whack them.

Hmmm….. maybe the smartest hurricane plan is to stay right in the middle of the Caribbean Islands, and just cross all fingers and toes! So far, it’s working for Smartini.

Trying to Reason: Update #3

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! This was from yesterday (Saturday) at 2:00 p.m.

Upper-level winds are then expected to become unfavorable for further development early next week.

  • Formation chance through 48 hours…low…20 percent.
  • Formation chance through 5 days…low…20 percent.

At 8:00 this morning, even better!

Look at the cute little disturbance!

…forecast to become less conducive during the next couple of days, and significant development of this system is not anticipated.

  • Formation chance through 48 hours…low…10 percent.
  • Formation chance through 5 days…low…10 percent.

I think we can call this one, folks. The chances of this system reversing its shrinking trend and becoming something that will be a problem for us are tiny. I won’t be surprised to see it disappear from the NHC outlook by this time tomorrow.

I hope my series of posts over the last few days have demonstrated what we go through each and every time a tropical disturbance starts to develop off the coast of Africa. We become fixated on these 4-times-daily reports from the National Hurricane Center. We start thinking about moving the boat hundreds of miles to the south – a journey we would not undertake lightly. We weigh all the options, and discuss all the scenarios, multiple times every day, for several days.

You can see how stressful the whole process has been for May

This one is going to end happily (with 99.95% certainty). Not all of them do. Our friends Maxine and Whitey have lost two or three boats to hurricanes over the last 3 decades. Our friend Robert lost one in 2017. The lagoon in St. Martin / Sint Maarten is littered with reminders of how serious this needs to be taken. Over the next few days, we’ll discuss, yet again, the wisdom of even being here at this time. Should we take the next nice weather window and head for Grenada? Or maybe at least part of the way there, to Martinique? Or should we look at the long history of the lagoon here as an excellent hurricane hole, and just stay put? Hurricane Irma was a monster storm, in both size and intensity. If the Saffir-Simpson scale went higher than Category 5, Irma would have been a SEVEN when it came through here! It’s incredibly unlikely for something like that to happen again such a short time later.

Decisions, decisions. But for now, the only decision is Bloody Mary or Mimosa with breakfast!

Trying to Reason: Update #2

When you get the updated NHC report on “your” tropical disturbance, you’re usually hoping for some change – a new forecasted path that takes it farther away from you, or a downgrade in the winds, or the rare and beautiful “it’s just going to fizzle out” forecast. You’ve waited 6 long hours since the last update – you want an UPDATE! But the 2:00 p.m. update yesterday gave no such satisfaction. The image was virtually the same as 6 hours before. (See below.)

Virtually the same image as 6 hours ago
Continue reading “Trying to Reason: Update #2”

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

(This post was supposed to come out yesterday – August 1 – at this time. Sorry! You’re going to get an update in just a little bit.)

Yes, it’s the title of a Jimmy Buffet song. But it’s also a good title for this blog post, which will describe what it’s like on Smartini when a Tropical Storm / Hurricane is brewing out in the Atlantic and headed our way. Rather than my normal style of waiting until something is over to write about it, I’m going to do this one each day, to try to convey a sense of the process we go through each time the National Hurricane Center posts an image that looks like this:

Continue reading “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season”

Trying to Reason – Update #1

Now it’s Friday morning at 7:38. We’ve had two meaningful updates in the last 24 hours, both summarized below. When yesterday’s 2:00 p.m. update came out, we read every word at least twice, trying to get a feel for this “disturbance”. (By the way – that’s a great word for it – it really IS a disturbance to us. All plans are put on hold, or at least become very tentative, until this thing sorts itself out. Our lives are definitely disturbed right now.) We look at the image, somehow imagining that the path of the disturbance-that-might-become-a-storm is accurate down to the individual pixel – because that’s about how big we are in the image – a pixel.

Continue reading “Trying to Reason – Update #1”

The Virgin Islands

Once again, Faithful Readers, I find myself apologizing for such a long wait for a new post. I can only imagine how many of you must wake up each morning and think “Today’s the day – a new post on Smartini Life – I just KNOW it!”. (I imagine that the number is zero.) At any rate, my apologies.

Arrival / Reunion Drinks with Whitey and Max

Smartini arrived in Charlotte Amalie, one of the largest settlements on the island of St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, on the afternoon of March 28, just two days ahead of our first guests, Steve and Challen. Friends of ours, Max (Maxine) and Whitey, who we met in Key West after Hurricane Irma, and who run the charter sailboat Nutmeg, were anchored there, so we joined them, anchoring on the West side of Water Island. We promptly put Killer in the water, picked them up from Nutmeg, and went ashore to Tickles, the bar/restaurant at Crown Bay Marina, and proceeded to celebrate our arrival in the Virgin Islands, and our reunion, as it had been over a year since we had last seen them.

Continue reading “The Virgin Islands”