The World Cup matches begin today. We cut the cord a couple of years ago, but will not be denied live coverage. Thank you, over-the-air Telemundo HD TV channel!
The USMT didn’t qualify, so I am all in for España. They play tomorrow.
The World Cup matches begin today. We cut the cord a couple of years ago, but will not be denied live coverage. Thank you, over-the-air Telemundo HD TV channel!
The USMT didn’t qualify, so I am all in for España. They play tomorrow.
As if I don’t have enough stuff in the backyard already, I went out today in search of a few more things. Planter, check. Bird bath, check. New whirligig thingie, check. 🙂
I enjoyed my Italy trip immensely. On this trip I graduated to the realm of the connected-passenger, relying on technology to assist my travels. I thought I’d share some of the apps that I found useful (and a couple I didn’t). Also, note that I have an iPhone, so I can’t comment on the availability of the apps for other phone types.
International data plan: Before setting off, do take the time to research your wireless phone provider’s international plan options. Mine has a day-pass for $10/day which essentially extends the already generous cellular voice/data limits of my existing plan to use while connected in other covered countries. Free wifi is generally widely available in Europe, but I found it could be a bit spotty. I didn’t want to worry about data caps, and Italy and the U.K. are included in my provider’s per-day international plan, so I went with that. You may choose differently, but decide before you leave.
Airline apps: This trip I flew Norwegian Air Shuttle and easyJet. You’ll want your airlines’ apps on your phone, too. Online check-in may help you avoid some lines, and online boarding passes can make connections and terminal transfers a bit easier without having to find a kiosk or person to print out a paper boarding pass for you.
Lodging: I booked my lodging through Airbnb. The Airbnb app makes for easy communication with hosts for directions, check-in times, and handling any questions or problems that come up during your stay. If your hotel has an app, you may want to install it for the same reasons.
Itinerary management: Instead of printing out a dozen or so reservation details, I opted to use GoogleTrips to integrate them all together. Once installed, you can login and have it pull details from emails in your inbox relating to travel reservations, and it will organize them all neatly by trip, date, and destination. And you can have it download the itinerary for offline viewing. This puts times, flight numbers, locations, reservation codes, contact details in one easy to reach place.
Train schedules: Following a tip from Rick Steve’s Europe website, I installed the Deutsche Bahn’s app DB Navigator for online rail timetables. It was awesome. Though it is the German rail’s app, it includes very current schedules for all of Europe for online viewing. The Italian rail information was accurate and I used this app exclusively to plan my train travel. I didn’t use it to purchase tickets, just to figure out which train I wanted to catch. I highly recommend it.
Currency conversion: The Xe currency app works online, or offline if needed, using the last exchange rate it downloaded. Not necessary but nice to have if you don’t know how much that thing is really going to cost you.
Foreign language help: My English and Spanish get me by in most places, but I don’t know much Italian. So, I used the Google Translate app. It will translate individual words or phrases for you. But it can also use the camera on your phone and will translate entire paragraphs of text in an image for you. This was awesome for translating text from tour brochures. Plus it was just kind of fun to use.
I also recommend Duolingo for learning a new language. I always have it on my phone, to sharpen my Spanish, and I used it for a few weeks ahead of my recent trip to learn a bit of Italian. It definitely helped. They also make a flash card-based app called Tinycards that is a nice companion to the original Duolingo app. And they are both free.
What to see: I installed the Trip Advisor app, and downloaded ahead of time the info they have on Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra. I used it to look for ideas on new things to see and places to visit. Google Trips also has a “things to do” category, but I found Trip Advisor was the one I used more.
Finally, I recommend installing Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app. It has audio walking tour and museum audio tours for several destinations in Europe. You can download ahead of time the ones you want to listen to.
Entertainment: I always tote my kindle e-reader around, but I also downloaded some free audiobooks and videos using Hoopla and Overdrive apps. If your city library participates with them, you can checkout several titles for free each month. I loaded up a few for the plane and train rides.
I never leave home without my Geocaching app. If you want to see more than a few caches you’ll have to sign up for a premium membership, which I find very reasonable. You can download ahead of time collections of caches in different places that you are going to visit. I earned my Italy badge on this trip. Woohoo! I carry a real compass in my backpack, but an electronic version is handy, too.
I left my binoculars and big camera at home this trip. So I didn’t think I’d get much birding in, and that was correct. I could hear many birds, but I was hard-pressed to get a good look at most. Before I left, I paid $15 for a European birding field guide app called Collin’s Bird Guide, as the European bird species are different from those in North America. Turns out I didn’t use that app at all. It has beautiful content, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It didn’t have a function to guide me in identifying a bird by color, size, etc. Good old Google search did the trick; I’d search, for example, on “Italy large black and grey bird” and just scroll through pictures until I found the one I was looking for. A website called world-birds.com turned up often with helpful info.
Navigating: I prefer paper maps, but for electronic aid I just used Google Maps to plot walking directions ahead of time, or if I had a “where the heck am I” moment. I wasn’t worried about my data usage as my data plan has high limits. But if you are, you can look up a route and directions while on wifi and take a series of screen shots ahead of time for viewing later. There are a couple other map/navigation apps I’ve seen recommended, but I didn’t use them: navmii and CityMaps2Go. If you really are trying to limit your data usage while traveling, download these ahead of time to see how helpful they are and practice with them before you leave.
Check out these and other apps to make your trip more enjoyable.
What other apps would you recommend?
I like to share when I have a great customer service experience; they are so rare these days.
I’ve owned a much-used pair of binoculars that were originally bought for the boat, but have also accompanied me on many miles of rainy, dusty and sweaty birding hikes. Unfortunately the adjustable eye cups both broke, making them less than ideal to use. Right when I was going to retire them, I remembered that Nikon has a lifetime warranty on their optic products.
So I looked up how to get a service return authorization, which was easy to do online, then shipped them off. I only had to pay for shipping to Nikon.
It took a little over 3 months, but yesterday I received a brand new replacement pair in the mail (postage-paid)!
It’s nice to know there are still companies out there that follow through on their quality promises.
My friend, Lori, bought a new boat – a 45′ Island Packet, located in Florida. She wants to move it to Texas, so it will be nearby as she prepares this year to take it on long voyages up the east coast of the US and across the Caribbean. She asked if I’d help her bring it to Texas, and I said yes. So, last week, Lori, me, Monte and another friend, Joe, set out to bring her home. We are back home in Austin now. A summary of our adventure from my point of view follows… It’s a tad long, so read along as far as you like.
We had an amazing piece of technology with us – a Garmin InReach Explorer+ handheld device that uses satellite technology to send out our latitude & longitude every 10 minutes, and allowed us to receive and send text messages. Our friends and family could follow our progress via a web portal.
Monday – February 5: TX -> FL
We started out, by car, driving from Austin to Kemah, where we picked up our fourth crew member, and arranged for a slip for the boat when it arrived in Kemah. Then Lori rented a car that we’d drive one-way from Kemah to Florida. We took turns driving all the way through and made it to the boat by dawn the next day.
Tuesday – February 6
This boat is a high-end, blue water boat, in very good condition. During the marine survey, this boat was rated as “above average condition,” but even so, there was still a list of things to fix/adjust before we could set sail. After we arrived at the boat, we immediately went to work on that list, which kept us busy all day long for each of the next four days.
Must fix items:
By the end of the first day, we went to bed feeling very down. We were tired and could not get many of the systems working. Couldn’t boot GPS plotter. We four seasoned sailors couldn’t even start the darn propane stove. We couldn’t figure out how to use the vacu-flush heads. We couldn’t get the generator started. UGH! At the end of the day, we made a store run – at least we’d figured out how to turn the fridge on…and the TV / DVD. So we sat down to drink some wine and watch Captain Ron, and turned in, exhausted, without dinner.
Wednesday – February 7
Wednesday morning was a new day. The Garmin guy showed up early and after a few hours said he’d fixed the problem. YAY! Right after he left, the same problem re-occurred. ARGH! He came back and gave us a workaround, enough to allow us to take the boat out on our shakedown cruise, and he’d come back the next day.
Also on Wednesday, the guy that did the original marine survey of the boat came back for the day. Lori had hired him for the day to walk us through the boat’s systems, and to accompany us on our shakedown cruise. This guy was awesome. If his fee was a million bucks it would have been worth it. After four hours he had walked us through how everything should work, fixed a few things, and lifted our spirits immensely. The sail was a nice one, in good wind. It was very good practice run, sailing a cutter-rigged sloop with electric winches; a little different to what we are used to. We pumped out the holding tank and filled the fuel tank. Afterwards, Lori took her back into the slip flawlessly, with bow-thrusters assisting.
Wednesday night we had a lovely dinner aboard, cooked on the now easy-to-light propane stove, and we watched Casablanca until we couldn’t keep our eyes open.
We felt 1000x better at the end of Wednesday. We have a boat that works, mostly, AND we can sail her smartly.
Thursday – February 8
Today was full of boat work. We each tackled one thing after another from the long boat prep list. We all worked hard all day long and celebrated with a nice dinner at the marina restaurant. The Garmin guy returned and brought the hoped-for cure-all: a new Garmin data cable to connect the master plotter in the cockpit to the slave plotter in the salon below. This is an apparently important detail, without which lots of data errors can occur, rendering sonar, plotter, autopilot, AIS and other important marine electronic components useless. We crossed our fingers… and the new cable appeared to address all the problems we had been experiencing. AWESOME!
Friday – February 9
Another busy day. Time is flying by. West Marine run for the final fix for the nav lights. Several grocery runs for provisioning. Cleaning boat. Refilling and sanitizing water tanks. The todo list is down to minor (we think) things. We declare tomorrow to be DEPARTURE DAY!
Saturday – February 10 – DEPARTURE DAY
At 9AM sharp, Lori took the boat out of the slip, and we were off. The waters off Tampa Bay were shallow and full of many fisherman and crab pots. We had nice breezes as we left the channel and headed into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time.
As we proceeded to raise all 3 sails, the outhaul for the mast-furling main sail snapped. Those darn electric winches! No worries, though. Monte sewed the end of the old, broken outhaul to the end of a new one and with that, Joe easily threaded the new line through the blocks in the boom. Just a slight delay, and we were as good as new. Light chop made for a lovely sail. We buzzed along, motor sailing, at 7 knots.
We plan to sail straight across. We have plotted a course using waypoints from a weather service that Lori enlisted. Sailing straight through means 24 hour watches. We are doing 3-hours-on / 3-hours-off 2-man crew shifts. Lori & I are paired up, and Monte and Joe are paired up. This kind of schedule leaves little time for anything other than trying to sleep when you are not on watch.
As the sun set on the first day, obscured by clouds on the horizon, Joe’s handline which we had been trailing behind us in the water had a big tuna on the end of it! He reeled it in and cleaned it on the deck.
Lori & I had brazenly cooked dinner for everyone after our 3-6pm shift. Later that night, the light chop turned into a relentless, grueling 3-6 foot southerly swell, given our western track. After midnight the winds picked up. This would continue for the next 30 some hours.
Overnight, as the wind was howling, the pressure on the rudder overloaded the autopilot, requiring hand-steering, making for difficultly maintaining our heading, and one less pair of hands to tend to the sails.
Sunday – February 11
By morning, it has become impossible to stand down below without being thrown about. The boat is a tank and there is no fear of her not being able to take it, but the bouncing and motion above and below decks is tiring. We each wear PFDs with a harness built in, using a 6 foot long tether to clip ourselves in while in the cockpit, and if we have to leave the cockpit to tend to rigging or other adjustments, we must clip ourselves to jacklines on the deck which have been strung bow to stern, to keep us from being thrown overboard.
Today the depth meter is over its limit, we are now in waters over 1000′ deep, and it doesn’t have that many digits.
In the afternoon, a friend of Joe’s sent a text on the InReach warning of a line of storms NW of us, moving SE. We were sure to run into it. And we did. From 4PM to 4AM the next day, we were dodging a dozen or so storm cells that lit up the radar in red. Rain pummelled us. Winds topped 30 knots (pretty much tropical storm strength). We rolled in the jib and prepared to bring in the main as well, as we proceeded south of Mississippi. We’ve started to see oil rigs on the horizon.
Monday – February 12
In the morning, the horrible pounding and smashing had subsided – for a while. We have been making good time though – over half way – and still have 3/4 tank of fuel. We celebrated the halfway point with our first beer underway.
As we sailed west into the afternoon, winds starting gusting over 40 knots, steady at 30 knots, with NNE swells. We were sailing through a Blue Norther! It was very rough above and below. At some point, Joe was thrown from his berth while asleep and smashed his face on the other side of the boat.
As we plodded ahead, we were surprised to see a 30′ fishing boat that did not show up on radar or AIS, directly ahead of us. We saw it about 200′ away and easily sailed around them as they waved hello to us, but we couldn’t help wondering what they were doing out here. Less than 5 minutes after that, we encountered our first close crossing with a tanker. He had the right-of-way, so we adjusted course to sail around his stern.
That night, we tiptoed through miles of oil rigs and freighters and submerged hazards. All eyes were on the instruments and dead ahead using the spot light to help us avoid dangers.
I have to say, it is challenging to process all the inputs – wind speed, radar blips, lights on the water, warning horns blowing, depth meter, in the dark, while encased in fog, with wind gusting around 20 knots, blasting through the waves at 8 knots – while weaving your way through. But there’s nothing like it!
After midnight the winds became calmer, and shifted more to the NE, making for a slightly kinder ride on our westerly track.
We are still getting used to the autopilot and GPS plotter. We had to be careful to keep adjusting our heading in the autopilot to maintain the desired heading over ground, or we’d find ourselves farther off course than we’d like to be. Somewhere south of New Orleans we got pretty close to shore and had to significantly correct our heading to get back on track.
Tuesday – February 13 – HAPPY MARDI GRAS!
This morning, FINALLY, the winds have dropped to 10-15 knots, and the swell has turned into a lovely following sea. I slept better than I have this whole trip. And the boat is calm enough to stand up below again.
We raised a Mardi Gras burgee on the flag halyard and donned our beads. We can actually cook again. Lori made breakfast. We had gumbo for lunch. Sauteed tuna appetizer. Spaghetti for dinner. We are starting to feel a tiny bit more normal.
During the afternoon a haggard and nearly exhausted Great Blue Heron made 4-5 attempts to land on the boat. He finally landed, bracing himself with his wings to stay onboard. We’ve named him Trigger.
While on night watch, Lori and I sailed across a shipping lane. We had 2 close crossings with giant tankers. They had the right of way in each case. One hailed us on the radio as we were listening to music on the iPad. It was a tad nervewracking deciding whether to pass in front of or behind each one. It depended on their distance, heading and speed relative to us. We made it though.
After dark we began passing through more fields of oil rigs. As of 3AM we were enveloped by a thick fog. It was bizarre listening to the fog whistles of the hazards as we sailed by. During the night we sailed into Texas waters. Trigger is still with us, now back on his feet.
Wednesday – February 14 – ARRIVAL DAY
We are enveloped in a thick fog. We can see the bow of the boat, but that’s about it; ~50′ visibility. Before dawn, the autopilot stopped working again. Hand steering is tiring, so I gave Lori a rest until we got outside of our waypoint outside the Galveston ship channel. We are still passing oil rigs. We just can’t see them.
The radar tells us that we are passing dozens of tankers and freighters who have moored/anchored outside the ship channel, as we get close to it. We are just about the only boat moving. We arrive at our waypoint at about 8AM and decide to enter the channel. All hands are on deck, including Trigger, as Lori approaches the jetty.
Monte is at the nav station below, entering waypoints for our transit of the channel. Joe is in the cockpit with his laptop running OpenCPN, showing charts to Lori as she makes her way through the channel.
It is eerie to be completely unable to see the tankers anchored to our starboard, just outside the ship channel, and the boats leaving the channel, passing us to port, not 500′ away. We cannot see them with our eyes. But we can see them on AIS and on radar. We can hear them, and we feel their wake after they pass us.
As we pass the Galveston ferry route, we encounter and dodge 2 ferries. By 10Am the fog has lifted slightly. By now we are safely in. We can relax a bit. We just need to be patient for another 4 hours or so, as we navigate our way to Clear Lake to Kemah.
It’s amazing that Galveston Bay is only 7-ish feet deep. We draw 5 feet. Crazy.
Trigger bid us adieu as we crossed the bay. We pulled into the slip early afternoon on a low tide, with narry an inch of depth to spare. WE MADE IT!
This has been an important experience for me. I learned much. I went through many different emotions – excitement, nervousness, frustration, weariness, happiness, confidence building decision making, to name a few. It was amazing to be on the water, with no land in sight for days, in water a quarter of a mile deep, testing myself, while helping my friend bring her boat home.
This morning my friend, Joe, set off as a crew member on a 46′ sailboat to help move her from Key West, Florida to Kemah, Texas. The boat has Garmin navigational equipment on-board, which means people can follow their progress via a garmin web portal. So I’m watching. And I’m wishing them fair winds and an uneventful crossing. Their current position is down by the blue arrow just off of Key West. The trip will be about 800 nautical miles, and I’d guess that depending on their average speed, it will take them 5-7 days.
I am also watching the weather (wind speed, wave height, temps, etc) through a website called windy.com. The pinkish color below represents the current wave activity (10-20 foot seas) trailing the tail end of the cold front that moved through the southeast US this week. It looks like they timed their departure to just skirt north of that nasty stuff. I hope they see only blue or turquoise (6 foot seas or less) out there for the next 7 days or so.
I’ve also recently started using an open source chart plotter navigation program called OpenCPN. I’ve installed it on my Macbook, and have uploaded charts for the Gulf of Mexico. There are many obstructions and hazards out there; lit and unlit; above and below sea level; as well as a significant level of ship traffic.
Godspeed to Joe and all mariners out there.
Who’s with me?!?! 🙂
We are ready!
Today was another lovely day in Palm Desert. Irene and I took a long walk this morning and found two geocaches along the way. We all had massages this afternoon and then grabbed a bite to eat while watching the end of the Seahawks game at a restaurant nearby. We won!
Back at the house we did our best to finish off all the food and wine we had bought for the long weekend. We stayed in the hot tub again looking at the moon and stars til we were pruned.
We also face timed with Keeto, a first for both of us. Goodnight birdie!
Not ones to miss a taproom visit opportunity, we left an hour early to take Fran and family to the airport, stopping in at the Live Oak Brewing Company right across the highway from the Austin airport. It sure beats the cellphone lot!
Back home, the house is sadly quiet. Except for Keeto asking “who’s here?” We await our next visitors!
Colleen sent me these cute wine glass charm birdies. We tried them out last night. Cheers!
We have a new rain barrel out back. Just in time for today’s rain. Installed yesterday, and today it’s full! Fyi, City of Austin offers modest rebates for rain water harvesting devices. Check it out if you are interested, or see if your city offers something similar.
Ok, it’s not really painted, but a photo that I morphed with an iPhone app called Brushstroke. The poppies came back this year out back. I love their deep red. Hoping for even more next year!
We cut the cord last year. And it has been ok. Amazon Prime and a Roku streaming player give us lots of viewing options. We also have a Channel Master DVR+ digital DVR with which we can record shows from over-the-air (OTA) channels, which is what we do 95% of the time. It downloads schedule info for 2 weeks for each channel via a wifi connection to your home network, so you have a nice channel guide to browse what’s coming up. There are a surprising number of OTA channels which we can get at our house, the majority of them are HD. You can enter your location at antennaweb.org and they’ll tell you what OTA channels you might be able to get where you live.
I can get my Seahawks fix by paying for Tune-in Premium month-to-month during the football season for live game audio broadcasts.
It’s all good.
But today we buried our TV. It died a slow death. I wonder how long it will take to fill this space. 🙂
Happy New Year!
Unlike last night, which was incredibly foggy, the sky was very clear tonight. I went out back and took a picture of the setting conjunction of the waxing crescent Moon with Venus.
Then I tried to get a shot of Orion, which had just risen on the other side of the horizon.