Friday, September 28, 2012

Packages for Cruisers

Receiving packages in the Islands can be a challenge.  At a hefty rate, UPS, FedEx and DHL service Grenada.  I have been told that USPS International also has been known to eventually get a package to Grenada.  As an alternative Grenada offers Grenada Postal Corporation (GPC) Global service (see: ).  Unfortunately, GPC Global service is not widely known in the cruiser community.

To initiate the service:
·         Complete the 3 page GPC Global agreement downloaded from this address:
·         Take the completed form to the main GPC office behind customs on the Carenage along with 
        2 forms     of ID.
·         You will be charged a 25 EC setup charge and a 50 EC yearly fee.
·         They will email to you the link for the Pak YA site (tracking site), your user name, password and                    account number.

·         When you order items, use the following address:
Your full name
7582 NW 74th Avenue
GND<your account number>
Medley, FL 33166-2423

When making Internet or phone orders having a U.S. address is important because some companies refuse to ship outside of the U.S.

Most of the packages cruisers receive contain boat parts or items that relate to life on a boat such as cameras and electronic items.  Unlike many island countries Grenada has a 30% income tax, a 30% corporate tax, and a 10% sales tax.  Therefore, they give cruisers or a “boat in transit” a break on import duties if the required paperwork is obtained and presented.  This means instead of paying up to a 30% duty on the value of items shipped in, cruisers only pay 2.5%

To ensure you do not pay excessive duty:   

  •  Complete the form and take it with a 1 copy of the receipt to a customs office, i.e., Port Louis, Grenada Yacht Club, etc.
  • Customs officials will sign and stamp the form
When your package arrives in Medley, FL, you will receive an email asking if you want the package held to be combined with other shipments, or processed for shipment.  There is also an opportunity to request or decline insurance. 

Shipment to Grenada by air transport is on Thursday night/Friday morning.  Friday morning you will receive an email requesting copies of your invoices and a completed C14 form.  You can fax, email, or drop the forms and receipts off at GPC Global window at the post office.   

Packages are then available for pickup after 2:00 PM on Friday.

Now, don't you appreciate your U.S. mail and package system?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fishing for Cruisers

Most cruisers attempt to fish however, their success is usually disappointing.  The crew of Ultra shared their dismal fishing experiences with Cap’n Ron, a former professional fisherman, and from that conversation a plan was hatched to share Cap’n Ron’s sage advice with other cruisers.

So, the call went out and approximately 90 cruisers signed up for Cap’n Ron’s seminar.  Evidently, Ultra and Motivator are not the only two boats struggling to catch fish.

Cap’n Ron, who is a manager at the Grenada branch of Island Water World (IWW) put together an impressive array of equipment from his catamaran, the Molly Bloom, and stock from IWW.  He stated however there is, “No large selection for fishing stuff in the islands.”  A situation he is in the process of rectifying at IWW.

Motivator’s Rod and Reel
Item one was selection of a rod and reel for what cruisers do most which is trolling.  The speed cruisers move at, 6.5 to 7.5 knots, is perfect for trolling.  A sturdy rod and reel designed for trolling is best.  When trolling, do not tighten the reel’s drag down too much, you want it where it just doesn’t let line out with the weight of the lure or bait.

Motivator’s Hand Line

If you can’t afford a trolling rod and reel, plenty of fish can be caught on a 60lb test hand line on a yo-yo rigged with a shock cord.

But, make sure you are wearing a pair of gloves when you are hauling in that big fish.

 Cap’n Ron likes to use 60lb test monofilament line on his trolling reels.  With 60lb line you can get a lot of line on the reel and it will be strong enough to land anything you want to fight onto the boat.  Spider wire or Power Pro can also be used and it will allow you to get more line on the reel, but at a higher price.

 Leader choice is a tradeoff.  You can fool more fish with monofilament leader, but you won’t lose as many lures to sharp teeth with steel line leaders.  Crimps and crimping pliers are available to make fast secure connections, but you can also learn how to tie connections also.  There are premade leaders, and materials to construct your own.  Swivels are always a must and according to Cap’n Ron, once you get a line twist you will insist on the more expensive ball bearing ones.

 One of the best lures available for trolling is the simple cedar plug.  Motivator having had several hits on a cedar plug can attest to this recommendation.

 Motivator has the proper rod and reel, uses 60lb test line, monofilament leaders when possible, steel leaders when there might be barracuda around, and the cedar plug along with other lures “guaranteed” to catch fish.  So, why isn’t our freezer full of fish?

One reason is that we have not been using teasers to attract fish to our lures. 

 A string of teasers are plugs, plugs with wings that dance in the water, and/or bubble lures that make a commotion and attract fish.  Cap’n Ron recommended stringing them on ¼” line so that they are easier to retrieve.  You can also attach a leader and then a lure with a hook to the end of your teaser string.

 The idea is to make it look like a school of fish behind your boat.  The predators, mahi-mahi, tuna, and Wahoo, will be attracted by the commotion of the “school” and will start feeding by picking off the stragglers (your lures or bait) first.

A spinning rod and reel are not for trolling.  They use lighter tackle and are for catching dinner off the back of your boat while at anchor or from your dinghy.

Cap’n Ron also showed us his Sabiki rod.  The Sabiki rod and Sibiki rig are for catching bait fish.  For a good explanation of a Sibiki rod and rig watch this YouTube video.  Sibiki rods are not available in the islands, but there are some YouTube videos on how to make your own Sibiki rods out of PVC. 

Live bait is always best and can be obtained by light tackle and a #6 gold hook, the Sibiki rod and rig, or by using a casting net.  Live bait is a problem for cruisers because most of our boats do not come equipped with a live well.

In Florida we saw a group of boats in the Intracoastal Waterway using casting nets to catch shrimp.  Pollie insist she is going to learn how to use a casting net; see YouTube video on how to throw a casting net.  Maybe she will be able to catch Motivator’s live bait fish.

Motivator’s Freezer

The next best bait is fresh dead bait or frozen bait.  Again, this is problematic for the cruiser with limited or in the case of Motivator, restricted freezer space.  In Grenada there currently is not a supplier for frozen bait other than the grocery stores that have squid, shrimp or small fish.

So cruisers are usually left to choose from a dazzling array of lures.  Some look like bait fish, some have feathers (pink is preferred in Grenada), some are rigged to swim while others are simply metal spoons.  The novice should start with a reasonable selection and ask successful fishermen what works for them.

Most of the time cruisers only troll with their lure or bait on the surface trying to catch pelagic fish.  But, sometimes it may be necessary to troll a little deeper where your fish finders says the bait fish are, and that will require a trolling weight or a planer.  The planer gets your lure down without having the weight.

Motivator’s Gaff

Fishing belts and other such accessories are nice, but most cruisers find ways to improvise.  On Motivator I usually sit at the stairs leading down to the cockpit with the rod resting on a towel on the top step and my body.  Gaffs however are a necessary item if you hope to get the fish on the boat.

Once you have the fish gaffed, it is a good idea to incapacitate it so that you do not have a forty to fifty pound fish angrily thrashing about your boat.  Most cruisers carry some sort of club (bottom right) either made of metal or wood to bonk the fish on the head.  Other cruisers have been known to squirt cheap vodka or rum in their gills to knock them out.  Cap’n Eric (pictured on the left), on the sailing vessel Amarula, built the wicked looking gaff/club pictured on the upper right.  I guess the fish are meaner down under.  He also told me that when there are not sharks around, he likes to bleed the fish out in the water thus saving a mess on the deck.  Unlike the rest of us, Cap’n Eric is one of those successful fishermen.

Other necessary equipment includes a tackle box, knife, heavy duty pliers, reel oil, a hook remover to avoid sharp teeth, and a hook sharpening stone.  “Sharp hooks - more fish,” according to Cap’n Ron.


Q: What is the biggest reason cruisers don’t catch fish?
A:  Weeds.  They throw their line in the water and never check it for weeds.

Q:  When is the best time to fish?
A:  Early morning and late afternoon.

Q:  How should I set the drag when reeling a fish in?
A:  As light as possible and still retrieve the fish; mahi mahi have a soft mouth.

Q:  How do I know where the fish are?
A:  Look for the birds, the birds are saying, “come over here.”

Q:  What are some other things to look for?
A:  Weed lines and current line around islands.

Q:  But you said weeds were bad for your lure?
A:  True, but that is where the bait fish are hiding.

Q:  Any other tips?
A:  When you catch a mahi-mahi, leave it in the water about 20’ behind the boat.  His buddies will come to investigate.

Q:  What about sharks eating your mahi-mahi?
A:  Haven’t seen any sharks down here.

Q:  This seems like a lot of work and equipment?
A:  Fish don’t jump into the boat.

For more information, both Cap’n Ron and Cap’n Eric recommended The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing.

A special thanks to Bill and JoAnne for hosting yet another great event on J-dock!

Also, thanks to Island Water World for sponsoring the seminar and to Cap’n Ron for giving us hope.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hashing Again

This week’s invitation for a Grenada Hash House Harrier’s (H3) walk/run #743 said, “Trails:  Walkers about an hour, not too hilly.”

Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
I feel that they prevaricate.  Note the gentleman attempting to lower himself into the valley using a vine.  I attempted the same maneuver and discovered that the vine was not rated for 180 pounds.  Therefore, I am going betray the ugly secrets of Grenada H3, or as one of our minimum wage workers once said, “spill the peas.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
Most hashes start with a berating from diabolical Hashmaster known as “Soft Wood,” who promises the survivors of the hash an opportunity to buy beer and chicken.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
But, before we are thrown into the jungle, Soft Wood and his minions search the hashers looking for unsuspecting victims whose only crime is wearing a pair of new shoes to a hike.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
The victims are then forced to drink a beer from their left shoe as some sort of voodoo-science breaking in ceremony.  Hardly the way one wants to receive a free beer.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
Other hashers, much younger than your poor author, experienced difficulty with what was advertized as, “not too hilly.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
The victims of this cruel ruse soon discovered that the trail not only led you into the valley;
But, then you had to climb back out.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
The victims of this subterfuge are generally nice people.  They stop and pet puppies.
Obviously the organizers of this abomination had little regard for our personal hygiene.  
Some however fared better than others.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
Upon safely returning to base camp, the “virgins,” or first time hashers were encouraged to give, Wendy, a young lady whose only crime was visiting from Orange County California, a group hug.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
At which time they were summarily doused with copious amounts of beer in some sort of barbaric cleansing ceremony.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
As if that was not enough, these two fine young men were called out and berated in front of the crowd.  The one on the left’s crime was taking his mother’s empty bag from her box wine of Cardboardeaux and making a CamelBak hydration system.  The other gentleman’s crime was simply choosing to run barefoot through the jungle.
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
For their alleged transgressions, they were renamed “Queasy” and “Camel Toe,” and forced to drink beer from a urinal and chamber pot while beer is sprayed on them.  The most undignified ceremony I have ever witnessed. 
Photo courtesy of Brian Steele
Now that I have spilled the peas, I am sure the Grenada H3 organizers will shape up and fly right.  Even if they are not sufficiently shamed by this posting, I will return next week because hashing is a great way to see the beautiful island of Grenada.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Communications for Cruisers

In January of 1968, the USS Pueblo a “technical research vessel” (Navy Intelligence) was boarded and captured by North Korean Forces.  Initially the United States attempted to deny, deny, deny.  The claim that it was not a spy ship was hampered by the fact that the ship with numerous electronic appendages looked like a floating antenna farm.  Today, the USS Pueblo remains the third-oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy, and the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held captive.
Motivator’s Radar Arch

I only mention USS Pueblo because modern cruising vessels are like the Pueblo in that they are also floating antenna farms.

The Very High Frequency (VHF) radio remains the cruiser’s primary means of communications.  It is used for ship to ship and ship to shore communications.  Cruisers communicate with buddy boats and crew members in launches, coordinate crossing situations, arrange dockage, receive weather information, and conduct cruiser’s nets via the VHF radio.  Cruiser’s nets are established for a geographical area and are usually hosted by volunteers.  The Grenada Cruisers Net is at 7:30 AM on International Channel 66 Monday through Saturday.  The agenda is: Security & Navigation, Weather, New Arrivals, Departing Vessels, Needed Parts and Services, Treasures from the Bilge (items you wish to sell or give away), Social Announcements, Commercial Announcements, and Items Missed.  On most mornings the net takes about 30 minutes.

Single Side Band (SSB) radio is also popular among cruisers and unlike VHF allows for communications over vast distances if atmospheric conditions permit.  SSB allows cruisers to get weather information, routing recommendations, participate in nets, and with extra equipment send and receive emails.  Because of the equipment costs and the learning curve associated with SSB, Motivator is not equipped.  So far we have not needed SSB, and I think it would only be necessary if we were crossing oceans or traveling to very remote places.   

The ship’s radar becomes your eyes in fog or at night for identifying possible vessel traffic.  Radar can also be used to verify your position by comparing displayed land features with your navigational chart.

Motivator is alerting with Stop The Press
Automated Identification System (AIS) is relatively a newcomer to the cruiser’s tool bag.  International voyaging ships with gross tonnage of 300 or more tons are required to operate with a Class A AIS transceiver.  In 2007, the new Class B AIS standard was introduced which enabled a new generation of low-cost AIS transceivers.   AIS is an automatic tracking system used for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and AIS Base stations. AIS information supplements radar.  Motivator is equipped with a Class A & B receive only AIS system that displays vessels identification, position, course, and speed on the navigational chart plotter.

When under the satellite’s footprint, Motivator receives XM Radio programming and XM Weather data.  We exceeded XM’s range when we departed the Bahamas.  Other cruisers with Sirus Radio reported receiving signal into the Leeward Islands.  While the Motivator crew sorely misses XM Radio that is not the case with XM Weather.  For the cost, the service it is lacking at best.  With Internet access there are much better and cheaper weather products available.

At this point I need to mention the Internet.  I can’t imagine what cruising was like before the Internet.  Cruisers use the Internet for weather information, emails to friends and families, blogging, paying bills, banking, business, working from the boat, voice communication (Skype), and entertainment.  The list of uses goes on and on.  When cruisers talk, you hear, “Anchorage “X” is well protected, has good holding, and the Internet is great.”

Motivator’s router is buried under the fly bridge console
The heart of Motivator’s IT network is a Proxicast LAN-Cell 2 router.  It is overkill, but it sure works well.  It provides a very strong WiFi signal, can be configured for more than we will ever need, is very secure, and is hardened to survive the harsh environment.

Motivator’s client bridge mounted below the radar arch
Most cruisers have some sort of WiFi enhancer.  Probably the most popular model is the Silver Bullet.  Motivator has been well served by a system supplied by Kennan Systems.  The Kennan system consists of an external antenna connected to a client bridge that is powered by a Power Over Ethernet (POE) injector that then connects to the ship’s router.  Once in port or at anchor, the client bridge is accessed through the router and the area is scanned for a suitable open WiFi.

When WiFi is not available, Motivator’s router is capable of switching over to an air card that allows us to connect to the Internet via cell towers.  In the States we were able to use a Verizon air card (more on Verizon later), but we also carry an “open air card” that allows us to insert a SIM card for the telephone system we want to access.  This worked especially well in the Bahamas on the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) phone system because about every island had a BTC tower.  It would also work in the Caribbean, however as we went down island, about every island had its own system and we did not want to buy that many SIM cards.

Many cruisers use a Kindle to send and receive emails and surf the Internet for weather and other information.  Once out of the U.S., my Kindle couldn’t pick up a cell tower.  A little research revealed that I had a U.S. Wireless only model (more about GSM and CMDA in the cell phone section).  So if you are planning to leave the U.S. with your Kindle make sure you buy an Open 3G model.

OTA in Grenada
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, living on a boat does not mean giving up your TV.  Motivator came equipped with KVH TrackVision, a satellite TV system that allowed us to receive Dish Network while in the States and most of the Bahamas.  The TrackVision system keeps the antenna aligned with the satellite while we are at anchor.  At about the Turks & Caicos we lost signal.  Other cruisers have been able to buy a satellite box in Puerto Rico and with some equipment modifications continue to satellite TV in the Caribbean, but it was not that important to us.  Additionally, Motivator is equipped with an over-the-air (OTA) antenna that provides limited reception in some areas and excellent HDTV in metropolitan areas in the States.

EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) and PLBs (personal locator beacons) are 406 MHz beacons which transmit digital signals.  The beacons can be uniquely identified almost instantly (via GEOSAR), and a GPS position is encoded into the signal provides instantaneous identification of the registered user and its location.  Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft and ground search parties can home in on the distress signals from the beacons and come to the aid of the concerned boat.  Motivator carries a PLB pictured above.  The difference between an EPIRB and a PLB is 48 hours battery time vs. 24 hours, but the PLB is more portable so we can take it on long dinghy trips.


SPOT is the low cost version of a EPIRB or PLB and uses its own satellites to receive distress signals at which time SPOT notifies SAR.  Motivator uses SPOT as a tracking device that reports our departure and arrival to our land based trackers who have all of the necessary information for SAR.  Our SPOT is also linked to Motivator’s web site so that others can see our location.

The other satellite dome on the radar arch provides Motivator with satellite phone and data service albeit at a very hefty fee.  Phone calls are about $2.10 per minute, and data is $4.00 per minute.  Therefore, we limit the number of satellite phone calls and have a program to compress outgoing and incoming emails.  Our usage of the satellite phone does not justify the expense of the equipment and standby charges, but we feel the safety aspect of having emergency instantaneous  worldwide communication capability justifies the cost.

On the other end of the spectrum is our Skype phone that has remarkably low service charges.  The Skype service is Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), thus dependent on good Internet service.

To improve our Skype experience, we outfitted Motivator with Freetalk Connect-Me, a small gizmo that connects between Motivator’s router and a standard cordless phone to provide us with service much like a landline in most homes.  When buying a Skype number, you are allowed to request an area code.  We selected an area code that would ensure our family with landline service does not pay long distance charges.

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) are two competing standards in cellular service CDMA is most commonly found in North America and some parts of Asia, while GSM is found in the rest of the world.  Some carriers do offer what is referred to as an international or “open phone" that can work on both standards.

U.S. phone companies, especially Verizon prefer to have you locked down to their service, and under contract.  Only about 4% of Verizon phones will work outside of the U.S.  Additionally, Verizon will suspend service for only 3 months while you are out of the U.S. and the suspended time is tacked on to the end of your contract.  The biggest mistake we made before leaving the U.S. was still being under contract to Verizon.  Our “Freedom from Being Owned byVerizon” party is on September 7, 2013.

The best way to go is have a truly open smart phone (not under contract to a carrier) that will work on both GSM and CDMA and can be used as an Internet hotspot when needed.