November 12, 2017

We built this cockpit awning for our sailboat...need shade from the Mexican sun

   Jessica and I recently sailed from our home port of San Diego down to La Paz, Mexico.

In our 30 foot boat, this voyage took us 3 weeks, but it was well worth the effort.

sailboat cockpit awning
2018 Update: our sun canopy in all its glory in the Sea of Cortez

Before departing, we had a lot of things on our 'to do' list. One of these things was to acquire some canopy shade across the cockpit of our Newport 30 boat. 

Mexico has a lot of sun and we only want some of that sun hitting us.

We built our own custom sun shade and it worked out great. I thought this would be of interest to others, so I'm describing the steps we took below.

sun awning
Jess enjoying a shady cockpit.

Our sailboat cockpit awning was not designed to withstand heavy conditions. We will only keep it up when travelling in light air or when the boat is at rest. Aside from that - the PVC poles and canopy will stow easily down below.

I like a wide open cockpit with unobstructed visibility, so I wanted a sun canopy that could be easily taken down at a moment's notice.

All in, we spent about $120.00 and the construction can be done in a couple of days.

sailboat bimini
our 2-panel sun canopy system 

Build your own sailboat cockpit awning

As you can see, we went with a basic 2-panel system. This way we have a back panel to shade the crew sitting in the cockpit. This back panel will be in place whether the main sail is up or down.

Then the front panel will only be up when the main sail is down (the front panel rests across the boom).

custom sun canopy
Front corners attach with a bungee for easy release.

Here, you can see the front panel rests across the boom. We use a bungee to fasten down the front corners. These can be popped off quickly.

When we cut the sun shade fabric to size and when we set the height of the PVC poles, we wanted to maximize visibility from the cockpit. This allows us to see incoming boats - and at the same time, it keeps the strong Mexican sun out of the cockpit.

We picked up our UV resistant canvas on Amazon. We bought 2 of those canvas packages, each one is 60 inches long and 36 inches wide.

DIY boat canopy
UV resistant canopy material with compatible plastic grommets

We also got a bag of the plastic grommets seen in the photo above. With a hammer, you punch them together with the fabric in the middle, this creates an eye-hole. You can then buy some parachute cord and tension all the corners.

Below is the version of marine canvas we used.

4 PVC poles (1 inch) cut to length 

PVC pipes support our sun shade canopy

We bought 4 sections of 10 feet long and 1 inch diameter PVC pipe at the hardware store. The 1 inch diameter give the right amount of flex - but is still rigid enough to stand straight under gentle tension.

We cut all 4 poles to proper length. The front 2 pipes mount on the inside of the cockpit. We attached them to the inside of the cockpit with pipe fasteners. The fasteners were raised from the surface with plastic spacers, this allows the PVC pipes to be pulled out easily when the sun canopy stows away. These PVC poles cut easily with a hacksaw.

DIY awning
front poles attach with a pair of pipe fasteners

The 2 pipes mounted on the stern rest in fishing pole holders. These fishing pole holders mount directly on my stern rail.

stern PVC poles fit perfectly in a stern rail mounted fishing pole holder

We bought some stainless eye hooks with threading on one end. Then we drilled these through the top of the PVC pipe. This allows us to tension the parachute cord that is connected to the canopy eye grommets.

an eye hook drilled through top of PVC pipe

A small design challenge: we wanted the canvas material to wrap around the boom lift line and the back stay. We cut open a slit on both panels to allow the canvas material to wrap around these lines. Then we popped grommet eye holes along the slit, so we could tension them back up around the backstay and boom lift.

canvas dodger
top view of 2 part sun canopy
So, that is it. We feel very good about this. 

Like I said, it is not meant for heavy weather, but this sailboat cockpit awning will certainly keep the sun at bay while cracking beers after a long day cruising.

September 27, 2017

Starting to prep for a Mexico adventure...

Well, it is officially official - Jessica and I are taking the boat south to Mexico.

The plan is to depart from San Diego in December and head down the Pacific side of Baja - hopefully arriving in La Paz in the first or second week of January. I will be cancelling my mooring at Marina Villiage in Mission Bay, San Diego. So, this is the end of an era...

The Alize' has had a great home at Marina Village and I recommend the marina to anyone in San Diego - but all good things must pass.

My boat is old but she still has one last wild adventure left in her. We are still uncertain with the long term plan, but I would like to keep the Alize' on an anchor or else a mooring ball in either La Paz or Puerto Escondido - possibly for a full year. Jess and I will continue working in San Diego, but we can drive down and island hop in the Sea of Cortez when we get long weekends off...

I still have a long list of items I need to purchase in order to make this trip a reality. However, we just checked one item off the list last week. Jess and I picked up a very fancy solar generator from a company called Kalisaya. The unit we have is the larger unit called a Kalipak 601. It has a large lithium ion battery and is set up to charge many USB devices and 12 volt components. Here is the solar powered generator on the bow of my boat.

solar generator on a boat

That is a foldable 40 watt panel - that can be used to top off the lithium battery. We will use the panel to keep the battery charged as we are anchored out for long periods of time. Our thinking is that - this is a nice system to compliment the 20 watt panel that is topping off our battery bank.

I'll write more as we continue prepping for the Baja cruise...

September 7, 2017

Smoke emitting from the engine...

My Yanmar diesel has been very good to me. Knock on wood...

I have been in more than a few tight situations and this engine has saved the day.
And now it looks as though my Yanmar is in need of some love.

Jess and I took the boat out last weekend and started smelling smoke after about 10 minutes under engine power.

When I removed the engine hatch, I saw black smoke rising out of the mixing elbow. Here is an image of the front end of my 2GM20 diesel.

credit: PHGCOM [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.

The mixing elbow is just out of view, but it sits on the top left corner of this photo. This component looks like hell, very rusted out... But it always has looked bad. Now it is also smoking when I bring the engine up to max RPM.
I will keep you posted - I am hoping this is a reasonable job in terms of price and effort...

July 12, 2017

Social stratification at Two Harbors on Catalina Island

 Let me begin this article by stating that I adore Catalina Island and I especially love the Two Harbors area on the northeast side of the island.

I always will.

I grew up in southern California and now own an old, yet sea-worthy, Newport 30 sailboat. I am doubly blessed in that each year, I make the 76 nautical mile crossing from San Diego to Two Harbors.

Boat routes from LA to Two Harbors and Avalon on Catalina Island

Set off-shore of the crowded and crazy land of southern California, Two Harbors is a quiet, sleepy refuge. It is beloved by visitors because it has no pretensions, it is relatively affordable to visit and it maintains a salty, sea-faring feel.

Boaters can grab a mooring ball in the harbor. If you don't have a boat, you can take the day ferry in from LA. There are some campgrounds and a few simple options for room and board.

Sleepy and scenic Two Harbors, the gem of southern California.

There is not much happening at Two Harbors and that's what's so special about it. You can sip a beer on the patio of the Harbor Reef bar, you can paddle around or snorkel...and that's about it.

It is an honor to visit this gorgeous harbor. I hope future generations can experience Two Harbors as I have done.

Unfortunately, it is now changing in a manner that caters more to the upper class.

For better or worse, the Catalina Island Company owns all operations at Two Harbors in Catalina Island.

In recent years, this organization has been ramping up their efforts to commercialize and monetize their significant holdings on Catalina island. They have installed zip lines and added spas and resorts in the Descanso and Avalon part of the island. Opinions vary on whether this is good or bad for the island.

This year, the Catalina Island company is focusing it's 're-vitalization' efforts at sleepy Two Harbors.

The Catalina Island Co. has recently installed a new oceanfront at Two Harbors called, 'Harbor Sands'. This includes 6 cabanas, a bar, lots of lounge chairs and 1,900 tons of imported white sands.

Sounds innocent enough? Actually, it sucks and it introduces a toxic, divisive element to the harbor.

two harbors
The new Harbor Sands resort at Two Harbors.

The new 'Harbor Sands' dominates the coastline northwest of the pier and it is very much, Pay to Play.

The whole area is gated off and if you want to walk upon their imported white sand, be prepared to pay 300$ to rent a cabana or 60$ to rent chaise lounges.

These were the prices I saw during the first week of July. See photo below.

harbor sands

Keep in mind, up till a few months ago, all this coastline was open to the public. For many decades, families have been using this space to BBQ food and enjoy the scenic waterfront. It was free to use for all visitors. Now it is off limit to everyone except those paying through the nose to rent chairs, palapas and order over-priced drinks.

harbor sands at two harbors
6 picnic benches remain for those that don't want to play the Harbor Sands game.

new changes at two harbors
Public space on the left, gated off Harbor Sands on the right.

I just sailed out to Two Harbors in early July, I picked up a mooring ball in and spent a week in the area. I was mostly preoccupied with a new energy system, I picked up a power generator that runs off of solar power. This is an interesting complement to the 12 volt DC power system on most boats.. ...but I digress...

Here is what I observed within the Two Harbors community...

All the Two Harbors locals I spoke with are vehemently against the invasive Harbor Sands. I also failed to find one boater who likes Harbor Sands. Instead, all the stories I heard were about long-time visitors being angered by the invasive new development.

Now let me wrap this up by re-stating how much I adore Catalina Island and Two Harbors. I am writing this article as an expression of tough love for the island.

I don't want to see the public waterfront encroached upon. I hate the idea of the middle class having to peer in across the rope-line to see how good the upper class has it.

If island visitors want a super-fancy 'elite' Catalina Island experience, they already have Descanso.

There is no need to introduce such flagrant social stratification onto the sleepy coastline of Two Harbors.

I am hoping the Catalina Island Company will make better decisions in the future. 

June 15, 2017

A nasty dog bite can knock a sailor down...

Calamity has reared its ugly head...


Almost 3 weeks ago, I made the foolish decision to break up a dog fight. I should preface this story by stating that I own both of the dogs involved in the fight. 

Yes, our adorable Mexican rescue sisters went at each other in a very violent manner. In the heat of the moment, I thought that Baja, the brown one, was going to lose an I got involved. I tried to rip Glacier's jaw off of Baja's face. This emotional decision landed me in the hospital.

My thumb was almost removed by dog teeth. Thank goodness, my bone and ligaments are in good shape. But, the nasty bite demanded surgery and 4 days of being hooked up to IV antibiotics.

a day after surgery, looking pretty banged up..

One of the main nerves in my thumb has been severed so I have lost much of the tactile sensation in my thumb. This may come back...or not. 

Time will tell.

my left hand and Jessica's right hand - mangled

I should mention that my girlfriend was also mangled in this debacle. Her cuts are more superficial than mine, but she still required a trip to the ER.

And of course, the dogs are fine. Not a single scratch.

Lesson learned? If the dogs want to destroy each other...let them. It's not worth hospitalization.

Needless to say, I haven't so much as raised a sail or motored the bay since the attack. I can type on a keyboard and walk around the neighborhood. Fortunately my current work doesn't involve physical labor, so I can keep doing my thing in the biology/biotech universe.

And of course, I am doing my best to minimize my painkiller intake...

Life's a bitch...and sometimes that bitch has teeth.

May 5, 2017

Another successful Dog-Sail

Our dogs are about 1.5 years old now and they are just starting to get their sea legs.

They've grown into their doggie life vests and they're almost making it through an afternoon sail without becoming nauseous.

Baja sniffing out an incoming breeze.

 Baja, the brown dog, is a high anxiety pup. She is keenly aware of the world and remains vigilant against every sound and smell. The ocean keeps her on her toes.

not a normal expression for Baja

Here's Jessica and Baja.

Baja looks like a drunk old man in this photo. That's not what she normally looks like... The open Seas brings out something new in her...

Glacier...always comfortable in the world.

Glacier is our white, fuzzy dog.

She is always in a good mood, regardless of the circumstances. Lots of smiles with this one, even when she is mildly puking in the corner of the cockpit.

Jess and Glacier watch the sun dip into the Pacific

The sun sets  -  marking the end of another classic dog-sail.

April 4, 2017

Thresher shark caught off of Mission Bay

My friends and I had a high school reunion this past weekend. I anchored my sailboat out in Mariner's Cove in west Mission Bay.

We were prepared for a casual day of catching up, drinking beer and eating tacos. But, as fate would have it - a thresher shark stole the show.

One of my old high school friends is an expert fishermen - and he hooked into this full grown thresher. The population numbers for this species of shark are quite healthy and so - the regulations allow for 2 thresher sharks per day.

This shark will be feeding many people. We filleted out the meat, partitioned it out, bagged it and froze it.

We ended up spending most of the afternoon processing the fish meat.

Nothing was wasted...

Now comes the fun part... learning about the best manner to prepare thresher shark meat..
Thresher vindaloo?

February 6, 2017

Solid winds and classic northwest swells hit the San Diego coastline

This winter has been good for southern California.

Mostly in terms of rain...

We are not out of the woods yet, but the precipitation has been steady for a few months now. In fact it's raining as I write..

Storms up in the Pacific Northwest have been sending us steady swells and various low pressure systems have delivered many days with 10-20 knot winds.

In general, work has been keeping me busy, but we did manage to get offshore last week...

Chris and his wife came down and got to see what San Diego looks like when you're 5 miles offshore.

January 22, 2017

I'm trying out a fancy new sensor bilge switch

Greeting skippers,

Here we are in the dog days of winter. Rain is falling heavy on the shoreline of southern California. The ocean is a chaotic mess of wind and angry swell. I for one could not be happier. The reservoirs are filling up!

But there's not a lot of sailing going on... So, in the interest of keeping busy, I've taken it upon myself to replace my bilge system. Usually I go with the classic float style switch, but this time - I decided to go with a fancy new electronic sensor switch. I got a Water Witch electronic sensor.

I went with a pretty standard pump. A West Marine 800gph pump. Apparently, these go out every 3 years or so. I just hit year 3 and sure crapped out.

So anyway, I wired up this new setup last month and its working great so far.

There are some advantages to this system, so I thought I would share my thoughts.

install electronic bilge switch
My filthy bilge with a new pump and a new sensor (black box in the back)

Here you can see I just put in the new West Marine 800gallons/hour pump. Normally, I have a float switch adjacent to the pump. When the water in the bilge rises, the plastic float arm rises also and this triggers a signal to turn on the pump. The problem was, my bilge is a bit too narrow. The arm of the float often touched the walls of the bilge as it was moving up or down. This made for an inconsistent system, as the float sometimes snagged and couldn't rise.

So, this is why I decided to opt for this new, smaller electronic sensor.

I bought a Water Witch electronic sensor - the Model 101 (12V DC). I found one at Marine exchange in San Diego for about 40$. There are no moving pieces.
Water witch electronic bilge sensor

When the water hits the large metal disc (see photo) then the signal triggers and the bilge activates.

What is cool about this type of sensor, is you can install it wherever you want (any height and any spot in your bilge). In a restricted bilge space, it is nice to have options.

Apparently you need to clean the metal disc from time to time. (If the disc is too dirty - a current won't go through). Although, this hasn't been an issue thus far.

electronic sensor bilge
heat shrink wire butt connectors

Oh and another thing... I finally did my wiring the correct way. I used these heat shrink butt connectors. In a bilge, any amount of exposed copper wiring will rot out quickly. These heat shrink deals are the best way to keep your wires from rusting out. Definitely worth the extra dollar.