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We left Gig Harbor, WA in 2009 and spent 3 winters in the Sea of Cortez then sailed to the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia up to Hawaii, then to San Francisco Bay. We are once again enjoying the Sea of Cortez as we plan our next adventure.
New stuff
The Wirie ap Wifi antenna

Our old Wifi antenna gave out on us somewhere in the South Pacific so we didn't have the use of one in Hawaii -- which makes it difficult to pick up the free Wifi provided by most marinas because the computers internal antenna just isn't strong enough to pick up the signals. We bought a Verison Hot Spot to use while there (which works though the 3G network just like a cell phone).

When we got to San Francisco, and knowing we needed to get a new external Wifi antenna before heading south into Mexico, we were intrigued when a fellow cruiser showed us their Wifi antenna that was different than any we had seen before: The Wirie AP

It was a little pricier than some others, but it looked so much better we ordered one and so far it seems like a perfect choice. The range is fantastic and two points that make it better than anything else we've seen or used are:
1. It is permanently mounted outside instead of something you have to drag out and hoist up the mast when you want to pick up Wifi and
2. It works like a hotspot, so instead of just plugging into the on board computer, it broadcasts to the whole boat so with the user name and password you can access it through any device -- computer, smart phone or tablet.

So, so far, we are putting the Wirie AP in the "things that work" category and highly recommend it.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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09/12/2013 | Jeanne & Tom
What cool boat bling!! How long have you been using this? Has it met you expectations so far?
09/13/2013 | Terry & Heidi Kotas
We installed it about a month ago and it works great here in the marina. I'll let you know how it works elsewhere as we start heading down the coast the first week of October.
Pre Departure Checklist
done and done!
03/13/2012, Zihautanejo, Mexico

We have a big Pre Departure checklist that we go through before we set out -- especially on a long sail. It's a list that our good friend Jack Eddy found in a magazine one time before we left Gig Harbor and he got us a nice laminated copy so we can re-use it using dry erase markers to check off the lists.

It serves as a good reminder to inspect things that might get overlooked in all the excitement of departing, covering everything from sails to bilge pumps, fuel tanks and electronics -- all the boat systems. This is definitely on my "Things That Work" list.

So we're happily checking things off the list and looking forward to being on our way within a couple days.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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03/14/2012 | S2
Looks like a nice checklist—is it available online or in a .doc file?
04/19/2012 | KJ
can you send me a copy of your checklist?
01/29/2013 | Curt
Can i get a copy?
Things that work....... or don't
The New SPOT Connect

I did a post about a year ago about our faithful SPOT satellite messenger that sends out brief emails to a short list of people telling them where we are and showing them on Google Maps. We love that simple little device and used it regularly to keep our friends and family updated as to where we were even when we were out of cell phone range.

Well, as is the case with all electronics, they have improved on it! They now have the SPOT Connect that expands what you can send out -- and it's controlled through pairing it thru Bluetooth with your Smart Phone (in our case our iPhone and iPad). Now instead one short list of contacts I can have several contact groups. And instead of one standard message, I can list up to 14 predefined short messages. All for the same cost as the original SPOT!

But wait, there's more! Now I can also choose to send out short custom messages. There is an additional charge for these messages, but it seems very reasonable to me -- I bought a bundle of 100 messages for $29.95. And you are only charged for the message that goes out -- not for each member in the group you might send it to.

A SPOT messenger is one of the things I would highly recommend to every cruiser -- or anyone that travels -- it should be at the top of the "must have" list. Because it isn't just a causal communication device it is also an SOS rescue device and you just can't have too many ways to get out a distress message. We have an EPIRB, SSB Radio and a VHF radio to send out SOS messages -- but what if those don't work? We also have our SPOT!

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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Things that work.....or don't
Internet in Mexico

One BIG disappointment this year is the WiFi at Marina Palmira. It seems they've "improved" their internet service, but in the process there's a glitch that prevents you from hooking up to it with an iPhone or iPad. Last year I could happily connect up using my iPhone which made it easy for me to check email etc with out having to use the laptop, so this year I bought an iPad for Terry for his birthday so he could easily sit and read the morning paper with breakfast without having to get the computer going and navigate to the right page -- with the iPad it would just be the touch of a button. But, nooooo, attempt after attempt to sign on with either the iPad or my phone resulted in failure and disappointment. I finally checked with the computer guy here at the marina and he said that sadly there is a problem due to their new system and he doesn't see that it will be resolved any time soon. We can, however, connect up if we walk up near the Panga restaurant here at the marina, so not all is lost.

Back on the boat we can connect up to the marina's WiFi with our laptop, but the system is often slow and frustrating, so we've gone back to using our Telcel Banda Ancha air card -- it's definitely high on my list of "things that work". One really nice thing about this air card is that you don't have to sign up on a monthly contract -- you can just pay for a month at a time and only need to pay when you'll be using it, so no wasted payments when you don't need the service. It cost about $50 to purchase the device last year and that included 1 month of service and it's about $40 per month for service. That may seem a bit high -- especially when you can get the free WiFi at the marina, but if there's much you want to accomplish on the internet it's well worth while to keep from being frustrated by the iffy WiFi service.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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01/04/2011 | jack
Aaahh....the vissisutes of cruising life....a slow is much more aggravating at 20degrees F......Hope you guys are enjoying the new year....What plans do you have for the cat, when you go to Greece?
01/07/2011 | Jim
Using my Banda Ancha tel cel card to read your blog while sitting at anchor in Ballandra (across from Loreto) watching the blue footed boobies diving for their lunch
Another thing that works

This little portable scanner is more than just a scanner -- it is a digital organizer. That means it not only does excellent copies of documents, business cards and receipts but also organizes them into easy to use and access files. Used properly it can also practically do your taxes for you (I however am not that disciplined or organized, though I do copy lots of receipts).

It costs less than $200, runs off of the power of your computer thru the USB port connection and stows away in a nice compact case. All perfect for taking on a boat.

In addition to keeping documents etc on file (I can print up our birth certificates or marriage license any time they're needed) I've found it's great when I need to "fax" a document. I just scan the filled out and signed document, save it as a PDF then email it on. It's very simple and easy to use.

So this is another item I'd recommend to anyone traveling away from home for any length of time -- turns your computer into a handy filing cabinet and you don't have to worry about losing or damaging valuable documents. And, if you're not traveling, they make a nice desktop model called NeatDesk that any home office could utilize.

And no, I don't get kickbacks from the NeatCompany ... just passing on info on another Thing That Works.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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10/06/2010 | Jeanne Walker
Great is a bunch smaller than the printer/scanner that we have on the boat now. I like the fact that it will run off the USB, as we have to fire up the inverter when we want to use our current model.
10/06/2010 | Terry & Heidi Kotas
I just wish I could find a portable printer that powered off the USB port like this does -- anybody out there know of one?
10/08/2010 | Dan
There are battery powered printers, but the USB buss really doesn't kick enough juice by itself.
BTW- I use my Neat scanner a lot.
Electronic Charts
Things that don't work.....
09/16/2010, Mexico

One of the things I'm working on while up here in the States is organizing the hundreds of pictures I took in the last year and a half of cruising and putting them into photo books and DVD's. It's been a fun stroll down memory lane.

When I happened upon this photo I realized I should add electronic charts in Mexico to my list of things that work....or don't. As you can see this shows our little boat right in the middle of the island!

I'm not saying that electronic charts don't work -- they're wonderful. Being able to look down and see your boat (positioned by the GPS) is so much easier than having to measure and mark your position on a paper chart. The problem is that the charts in Mexico aren't accurate, so the pictures of the land don't usually line up with where the land really is. The exception is when you're entering major ports such as La Paz or Santa Rosalia -- these charts have been updated for large shipping traffic and suddenly the charts line up with where you really are.

So just a word of caution to anyone coming down the coast happily using their electronic charts -- don't depend on them for accuracy once you're in Mexico or you might find yourself somewhere where you don't want to be.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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09/16/2010 | Jeanne Walker
Just courious...what brand of charts are you using? I am not saying that any of them are better than another just courious?
09/17/2010 | Heidi
We actually have 2 different brand chart plotters on Cetus -- one is a small Garmin and then when we replaced our old radar last year with a RayMarine C-70 it also had a chart plotter that uses C Map charts. The charts seem to be equally off.
09/21/2010 | Chip Prather (s/v MISSTEAK
I've had the same experience with both my Nobeltec and MaxSea charts. Isla Isabel, for example, is actually 1.5 miles from where it's shown on the charts (both) as an example. Eyeballs are your best navigation tool in Mexico in my opinion.
Here's a good idea.....

Refrigeration is the bane of every cruisers existence. Good refrigeration makes living aboard a boat much more comfortable, but it is also (on most boats) the biggest energy draw -- and the biggest nightmare when something goes wrong.

Our first cruising boat, Cassiopeia, didn't have a refrigerator and at the time we were perfectly happy with that. Our ice box would keep things cool enough so the only thing we were missing was a freezer -- until you were on a long passage or a remote anchorage where you couldn't buy ice. But even that wasn't too bad -- it just made arrival at a port all that much more exciting when you had an ice cold coke or ice cream to look forward to once ashore.

But as with everything else, a lot has changed since that first cruise. Cetus came with refrigeration (though it wasn't working when we purchased her and we had to replace it) and we've become very spoiled by it, and though we know we could get by without it, we don't want to have to try. So before we set out on this latest cruise, we replaced and rebuilt our refrigeration system to make it as efficient as possible. We also improved our solar panels to optimize the power they provide to keep the refrigeration, and everything else, functioning.

Even with the refrigeration working well (we always have ice cubes!) there is still always the desire for more space because it is very small -- much like small office or dorm refrigerators. Well, a few months ago we discovered that a lot of cruisers have added 12 volt portable refrigerator/freezers to their boats and they have more fridge space with very little power draw! Brilliant!

All of a sudden it seemed like every boat had one of these little gems on board and here we'd been clueless about their existence. We decided it was something to look into -- having all that extra freezer space would really make the future long passages we have ahead of us a lot more pleasurable -- and at very little power expense.

We found there are two major brands: The Engle and the Dometic (formerly Waeco) with the Engle being the most popular with the cruisers we've met. We decided to buy one when we were back in the States, but by a stroke of luck, a fellow cruiser in Santa Rosalia was selling one at a great price (they'd bought a newer model) and we scooped it up. We only had a couple days to test it out before we flew out, but we're excited to put it to good use when return to Cetus this fall.

So, though we don't yet have personal experience with using these portable refrigerator/freezers we've heard enough good things from other cruisers that we're adding it to our list of Things That Work and recommend anyone getting ready to set out cruising look into adding this to their list of must haves.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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You've Got Mail!
another thing that works.....

Another big question people have when preparing to set off cruising for any length of time is "What do I do about my mail?"

When we started out on this latest cruise over a year ago I arranged for my mail to be handled by a friend, just as I had on our previous sailing adventures. I've always been aware of mail forwarding services but didn't think I needed to bother with one since we really receive very little mail anymore.

Then I started hearing from other cruisers how with St. Brenden's Isle you can actually view your mail on line to make a decision as to save, send or shred it. I was intrigued by this and checked it out and now have been using this great service since May and I just love it.

I haven't gotten rid of our PO Box yet -- and don't know that I will -- I just have my mail forwarded from the PO Box to St. Brenden's Isle. That way if there's something I missed doing a change of address on it will still get to me.

This is one of the "Things That Work" and I highly recommend using this service -- check it out through the link to the right.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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08/31/2010 | Carol & Livia Dupuis & Gilstrap
I wish they had St Brendan's Isle in Canada!
Things that work...or don't
Communication While Cruising

It's mid August -- the time cruisers all along the west coast that are planning to sail to Mexico are either starting their trip down the coast or are frantically trying to get those last projects done so they'll be ready to cross the border soon after the end of hurricane season on November 1st.

With this in mind and since I finally have a little more time for working on the blog than I do when we're out cruising, I thought I'd do a few posts on things we found worked well for us this past year or in our past cruising, what we've learned from other cruisers and what didn't work or was a waste of time and space. I hope this will be helpful to those of you planning or dreaming about cruising -- and hopefully interesting to those of you that are simply curious about this crazy cruising life. If you want more information or have a topic you'd like me to address, send an email to the email link at the right and I'll see if I can answer your questions.

One of the biggest concerns of all cruisers is keeping in touch with people back home whether it be family and friends or to continue working while out sailing around, so I'll start by sharing what we've learned about cell phones and WiFi in Mexico.

Cell Phones
Before we left San Diego last November I heard about AT&T's new Viva Mexico plan and it has worked fantastic for us. It's only $20 per month more than the plan we already had with them and with it calls between the US and Mexico are just charged as minutes on your plan without any roaming! We had great coverage coming down the Baja Coast and near any cities in the Sea of Cortez and I understand mainland Mexico has even better coverage.

There's been a lot of discussion lately about Verizon vs. AT&T in Mexico. In the past year I've seen many people change from Verizon to AT&T because the service and plan is so much better, but it seems a few people have been told by AT&T that 40% of the calls have to originate in the US or they may be canceled. I was surprised by that one, because I hadn't ever heard that in all my months of service. I suspect that it may be a new addition to the contract, but our service is on a family plan with our daughter who is in the US, so that hasn't been a concern for us.

Internet Access

Most marinas have WiFi -- but with varying degrees of frustration involved with using it. There can be connectivity problems and the systems get very slow at certain times of day with heavy usage, large downloads and Skype. That coverage was fine for us for the most part, but we eventually bought one of the TelCel Banda Ancha cards (similar to ATT Aircard). The beauty with the TelCel card is that there is no contract involved, you simply pay for the months you want to use it.

I'd recommend buying a WiFi antenna before you go. We didn't have one until a month ago and they really help bring the signal into your boat.

It's really nice to have a iPhone or Blackberry as your cell phone so you can utilize WiFi access easily whether in a marina or internet cafe without having to pull out your laptop or sit down at a strange computer.


I have Skype on my computer and on my iPhone, but I haven't used it at all since I have the AT&T Viva Mexico plan it's easier to make a phone call. But for those that want to keep communication costs to a minimum it is definitely the way to go. The draw back is that you need an internet connection to use it (where I can make phone calls from anywhere) and often the WiFi connections cut out or are overloaded.


So there are lots of choices out there and your decision on how connected you need to be will dictate how much you need to invest in communications. When we went cruising for the first time back in the early 90's we were lucky to make a connection back home once every couple months. Times have certainly changed and needs have changed, too, so there are new things coming along all the time, but this is a short summery of what has been working for us so far -- hope it helps!

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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Sea of Cortez - A Cruiser’s Guidebook
by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer
02/11/2009, Mexico

One of our great finds at the Boat Show this year was this BEAUTIFUL cruising guide to the Sea of Cortez!

Sea of Cortez - A Cruiser's Guidebook by Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer

On our last cruise to Mexico we didn't get to spend near enough time in the Sea due to commitments (work!) back home. This time we plan to explore this lovely area more extensively -- we may stay a few months or we may stay a whole year -- we'll make that decision when we get there.

If you're going to Mexico or just dreaming about it, we recommend picking up this very well done cruising guide and get lost in the Sea of Cortez.

Check out the "Sea of Cortez" link to the right for more information.

Blog Posts: Things That Work...or don't
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The Cetus Crew
Who: Terry & Heidi Kotas and Street Cat Rosie
Port: Gig Harbor, WA
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