Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coconuts 101

Pollie drinking coconut water from a coconut that I removed the husk from
(with Faye's help!)

Click here for the November issue of Caribbean Compass, and then see page 33 for my article on "Coconuts - the history, uses, and dangers."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Problem Solved

Motivator’s PO (previous owner) installed the above LCD television and a surround sound system with a VHS tape/DVD player.  As a friend said, the only VHS tape we have left is our wedding video.  Besides being dated, the LCD TV and 110 volt Panasonic entertainment system was an ASD (amp sucking dog).

The first thing to go was the LCD TV in favor of a Samsung LED TV.  Power consumption of LED TV’s is much less, and they do not produce the heat that LCD’s produce.

Finding a replacement for the Panasonic entertaiment system was more of a challenge because the PO had cut a hole in the cabintry for the install.  We finally decided on a Pioneer DVD receiver that are normally used in vans to entertain the rug rats in the rear seats.  While the receiver has a small touch screen, we mainly were interested in the available component connections on the back and that it is a 12 volt system.  Unfortunately, the superior HDMI connections are not availible on vehicle units yet, so the connection to the TV was via AV cables.

The DVD/receiver was connected to the PO’s interior speakers that were still in good shape unlike the non-marine grade speakers that were used on the rear deck.

New marine grade speakers were added on the rear deck and connected via a 12 volt pre amp to the DVD/receiver.  The old system could drive the deck speakers without a pre amp, but we found it cumbersome to operate and occasionally found that we were letting the rest of the marina listen to the sound track to Lethal Weapon II.

Because we were adding more 12 volt components a dedicated fuse box was added for the entertainment system.  This allowed for the correct amperage fuse to protect each component.

One piece of entertainment kit that we have really enjoyed is a Western Digital Live TV Hub with a 1 TB hard drive.  The Hub allows us to load our favorite movies, song and pictures to the drive for playback.  Because it also connects to the Internet it allows streaming of venues like YouTube.  We watched the Presidential debates and some of the America’s Cup via live streaming.

The Hub is connected to the TV via a HDMI, however we are now getting more HDMI components than available inputs on the TV, so a HDMI selector was added to the system.  The Hub initially was a 110 volt component, but like many items it can be converted to 12 volts by simply cutting off the transformer on the power cord and connecting to a 12 volt supply.

A Blu-ray disk player was added to the system because occasionally we can only find certain movies in Blu-ray format, and the vehicle receivers do not support Blu-ray, yet.  Plus, because of the hole cut by the PO in the cabinetry, we have room to fill.

We now have three 110 volt components that need to be powered.  This is not a problem when we are on shore power or have a generator running, but we want it to be efficient when we are quietly sitting at anchor.

Motivator’s 2500 watt inverter/charger can easily handle the entertainment components, but not as efficient as a smaller dedicated inverter.  But, if the 110 volt power strip is connected directly to the dedicated inverter, the system will be drawing on the batteries needlessly when on shore power or one of the generators is running.

An AC/DC transfer switch solves this problem.  The one we used is from KISAE Technology.  Besides automatically selecting the power source it transfers rapidly enough that we barely get a blink when switching from generator to batteries.  Previously we had to shutdown the Hub or DVD player prior to switching over.

Because we want the system to be networked, an Ethernet hub was added and connected to Motivator’s LAN.

(Note: not shown are satellite TV and iPod connections)

One more component can’t hurt, so a 1 TB Network Accessible Storage (NAS) was also added for additional storage and computer backup.

The original hole cut by the PO for the Panasonic system was trimmed out and a flip up black Plexiglas door was fabricated to cover the components and switches.

On the back side, inside the cabinet, a facing was added to hide all of the cabling sins while providing access to components that occasionally need attention.  A switch with a LED light for the rear deck speaker’s pre amp gives us visual assurance that we are not sharing Lethal Weapon II with the rest of the marina. 

But, what’s the”Parking Brake?”  Pioneer and all manufactures of vehicle video devices want to ensure that the driver is not watching a movie while driving.  So, the unit is designed to be connected to the parking brake switch so that video is only available when the parking brake is engaged.  I contacted Pioneer and explained that my parking brake is called an anchor, but they advised that there was no way around this “safety feature.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Dark Side of Cruising

You have watched another beautiful sunset with a sundowner in hand.  Dined on freshly caught maui maui, and now you are either watching a movie from your DVD library or enjoying a good book.  Suddenly, you are in a fight for your life against a machete wielding youth that boarded your boat.  I did not sign up for this part of the cruising lifestyle.

Incidents like these are rare, but not rare enough.  One site that tracks these incident is the Caribbean Security and Safety Net (CSSN), see:  Two recent incidents are posted there:

Bloody Bay, Tobago – Armed boarding, assault and robbery
September 26, 2013         
From the Grenada Cruisers Facebook page: Four men boarded a cruising catamaran at 1 am. An elderly female crew was restrained and threatened with a pistol while the male skipper, attempting to repel the boarders, was struck on the head with his own machete. Luckily it was the flat of the blade, rather than the sharp edge. Another female, the only other cruiser in that secluded bay, was fired at twice as she attempted to approach in her dinghy. Both cruising boats immediately hauled anchor and proceeded to Store Bay. A mask and cap belonging to the boarders have been recovered. Money was demanded but, as the crew had only $30 TT, the men quickly departed “in a panic” in their boat after firing at the approaching dinghy. Police have interviewed the skipper.

Union Island, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) – Armed Boarding/Assault
October 3, 2013
At approximately 20:45, a cruising sailboat anchored off Frigate Island, adjacent to Union Island, SVG, was boarded by machete wielding men. The two crew were able to fend off the attack, but only after serious injuries were sustained.  The yacht called for emergency assistance on VHF and was then assisted by several individuals in Grenada who heard the call via the channel 66 repeater. The yacht proceeded to Carriacou for additional medical assistance and treatment.

The incident in Tobago influenced our decision not to go to Trinidad/Tobago for a haul out and bottom paint.  Instead, we are having the work done here in Grenada.

The Union Island incident hit much closer to home.  We have visited Union Island several times.  We have seen the s/v Rainbow in our travels and may have met the cruising couple.  And, we listened to the emergency response by Rescue 1 out of Prickly Bay Marina, Grenada on our VHF radio.  The next day, I wrote the following letter to the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines:

Cruiser Attacked

Honorable Dr. Ralph Gonsalves,

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Last night my wife and I listened in horror to an unfolding incident on the VHF radio.  Cruisers aboard the sailing vessel Rainbow, anchored off Frigate Island near Union Island were attacked by a machete wielding assailant.  Reports indicate the assailant entered the interior of the boat without warning and severely mutilated the female occupant’s face.  The male occupant grabbed a kitchen knife and successfully fought off the assailant while receiving injuries.  After providing the female occupant initial first aid, the male occupant contacted Grenada Rescue One, pulled anchor and proceeded to Carriacou where officials and medical personnel were waiting dockside. 

Mr. Prime Minister you have a problem.  Yes, crime occurs everywhere.  However, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has earned the reputation within the cruiser community as being unsafe.  For example see:  Because of these reports, my wife and I avoid St. Vincent, stopping only in Bequia, Mustique, and Union Island.  On our last stop at Union Island we felt intimidated, and therefore have vowed to avoid it in the future.  Due to this latest incident, we will reconsider our cruising plans for St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole.

Cruisers network – extensively.  Last night’s incident was the main topic on this morning’s Grenada Cruiser’s radio net (Channel 66 int on VHF) Monday through Saturday beginning at 0730.  There is already postings on Grenada Cruisers Facebook page, see:  There will certainly be a mention in the Caribbean Compass, see:  And, tonight the incident will probably be the main topic of conversation at the Nutmeg Restaurant where cruisers are gathering to support their grand reopening.  I will also be posting an article on my blog ( about the incident titled, “The Dark Side of Cruising.”

Cruisers have an economic impact on islands, see:  Cruisers’ also have a tendency to vote with their keel; we simply avoid areas that are unsafe.  Additionally, most of us carry insurance.  When a country or area becomes too unsafe insurance companies make that country an exclusion, i.e., I am not insured in Venezuelan and Haitian waters.  That is a list no country wants to be on.

As previously stated, all countries have crime, but now yours has exceeded the acceptable threshold for myself and other cruisers.  For the economic and moral future of your country it is imperative that security for cruisers be addressed immediately. Should you wish to discuss this issue further, please do not hesitate to contact me. 


Maurice Howland




Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Tourism

Ministry of National Security

The results of the attack

Unfortunately, at this time I have not received a response from the Government of SVG.  The response from the cruising community and others has been quite the opposite.  After posting the letter on the Grenada Cruisers Facebook page I received numerous comments and they are still flowing in.  The Financial Time, a London based newspaper asked me for an interview for an article they were doing on the financial downturn in the Caribbean and associated crime.  The St. Vincent and Grenadines I-Witness News (see: contacted me for clarification on a few issues.  Grenada Board of Tourism has have stepped up and offered services and assistance from its members.  At a recent cruisers dinner at the Nutmeg Restaurant, St. George’s, Grenada, money was raised to help offset some of their expenses.  Most importantly, Tina Curtin, the most severely injured victim thanked me for my “immediate” letter to the SVG Prime Minister.

Rainbow’s salon

Where do we go from here?  I think the first step is that we continue to pressure local governments to make genuine efforts to ensure cruisers security if they want our business.  We need to remind them that cruisers’ have their own network and are aware of crimes against cruisers.  Cruisers do not rely on the “massaged” crime statistics.  Apathy and excuses by authorities is not an appropriate response. 

 Martin, a PAYS member

At Prince Rupert Bay in Dominique, one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean, PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security) was formed.  The local business and river guided realized that crimes against cruisers were not a formula for long term success.  PAYS members greet you when you enter the harbor offering their services and moorings (optional).  At night the harbor is patrolled by PAYS members.  Once a week, PAYS organizes a cruiser BBQ as a fund raiser to support their efforts.  Their efforts are working and the locals have found that it pays (pun intended).   

How to punch a hatch

Local authorities and organizations like PAYS cannot be everywhere, so cruisers must employ measures to ensure their own security.  Most yacht hatches are no match for determined assailants.  Unfortunately, in the tropics many hatches are left open for ventilation purposes.  There are methods to mitigate this issue.  Motivator uses an alarm system designed to alert prior to the assailant reaching the hatches.

Pollie with a flare gun in the “safe room”

Contingencies for the worst case scenario should be considered and exercised.  Motivator now has a safe room, aka., the engine room.  The existing fire door’s lock was reengineered to allow us to lock ourselves in.  From there we can control many of the boat’s systems rendering it useless to pirates while we use a handheld radio to solicit help.  When we emerge, the boat maybe trashed, but we will not be.

Maurice & Captain Ron at Island Water World

Communication is essential.  Would be assailants are counting on being able to strike and escape without being detected.  The crew of Motivator is guilty like many cruisers of turning off the VHF so as not to be disturbed at night.  That policy has changed.  We will be keeping a handheld next to our bed, and we plan on asking other cruisers in the anchorage to monitor their radios.

We must keep this in perspective.  We were not immune from crime before we started cruising.  However, most of the islands we visit have small populations so therefore the expectation is for less crime.  Also, we must consider the severity of what we are talking about.  I have see incidents like the ones mentioned above categorized simply as a “yacht boarding” or “attempted burglary.”  On land it would be called “home invasion” and at sea it should be called what it is – piracy.

 Tina Curtin

Hopefully, as Tina has stated, something good will come out of this horrific incident.  Anchorages are for cruisers, not criminals; let’s take them back.