Sunday, February 17, 2013

iPhone and iPad Navigation

I've spent some time at various anchorages this year looking into Navigation using iPhones and iPads.

Many people use INavX. INavX is a commercial app that is from the same folks that provide GPSNavX, which is a good Mac based navigation program. The difference is that while GPSNavX allows the use of all BSB charts, which are widely available and mostly free, INavX requires purchased charts. There is nothing wrong with purchased charts as long as they are accurate, but the fact is that in quite a few cruising grounds, scanned charts from good cruising guides that are then calibrated are much more accurate and much safer than commercial charts. The San Blas Islands in Panama are a prime example. We often crossed over the shallowest part of reefs and anchored on islands according to our Raymarine chart plotter with Navionics, but while using GPSNavX on a Macbook with scanned Bauhaus charts the Mac screen duplicated reality as seen from the cockpit.

Problem solved… sort of. On Passport, I have installed an Aircable Mini, a bluetooth transmitter connected to the NMEA data stream from the chart plotter. This allows our computers to receive position information wirelessly. That eliminates one cable, but we still have a power cord to the cockpit, the inverter on, and since a computer has not been our main chart plotter, we have no provisions to keep the Macbook dry if it rains.

Wouldn't it be nice to have this ability on an IPhone or IPad? Should be easy, but in reality it is a bit complicated. Back to the problem stated above. Although there are several navigation apps for Idevices they mostly require purchased charts which are not accurate in our current locale.

Enter Memory Map.

Memory Map is a windows based navigation package that has been around for a while. They now also provide a version of the program as an app for IPhone and iPad. The app is free but once again you must buy commercial charts. But for $50 you can unlock the app to use 3rd party charts or scan and calibrate your own images into charts. They will provide a 30 day free trial of this feature. So for $50 you have a method of using iPhone or IPad for navigation with good 3rd party charts. Now the downside. Memory Map uses a .QCT file type which is their own proprietary file type which is difficult to convert to. However with the $50 unlock, you can import .BSB charts, although they sometimes require additional recalibration, or you can import scanned images and calibrate them yourselves. There are .QCT charts for the San Blas and some other areas that are traded around the southern Caribbean by cruisers, which will save the work of scanning and calibrating. They were given to me for the (ahem) Windows version of Memory Map but work fine in the Idevice Apps. One killer caveat: the import and calibration of new charts must be done in the Windows program and is not available in the apps. You do get license to run the Windows version and calibrate charts included in the $50 app unlock fee. Memory Map is not available as a MacOSX program so to put it through all its tricks you must have a PC or a Macbook with dual boot or Fusion, etc. to run Windows.

Google Earth

Another interesting option for navigation with an Idevice is Google Earth. I have only used Google Earth to enter a very few anchorages so far but in my limited experience it is amazingly accurate and very clearly shows the shallow water. Of course there are no navigation aids, depth soundings, or anything else that you have on a proper chart, but you end up with a powerful and useful backup to charts and visual navigation. To get the images you need for navigation you first need a data connection for internet. I start off by clearing the cache, done from the settings menu in Google Earth. Then zoom in on each anchorage or tricky passage area you will need to see while underway. Once this is done, turn off the cellular data on the device you are using. The areas you zoomed will remain in the Google Earth cache and allow you to see those zooms again while you are underway. This does require that location services are on and that the device you are using has a real GPS. Some older iPhones did not have GPS, they get location by interpolating from towers. This is NOT suitable for  navigation. If you are using Google Earth on a computer you must have an external GPS connected to the computer. Also, beware that as you continue to use Google Earth with the internet on the cache will eventually erase the oldest stuff and you will lose your navigation zooms.


Unless you save your cache. There are very good instructions for doing this on computers on the web so I'm not going to reproduce that here. What I haven't seen on the web is any information for how to do this on an iDevice. Here is how you do it. Download Iexplorer from  Version 2 used to be free. They are up to Version 3 now and want money because they added some new features. But none of those features are needed for what we need to do with Google Earth. Just run Version 3 in the demo mode. It doesn't expire.

When you hook up your Iphone or iPad to the computer running Iexplorer you will see the file structure of the device. The Google Earth cache files live in a folder:

apps/google earth/library/caches/cache/

Save the 'cache' directory in a named directory on your computer hard drive. Copy them back to the iDevice as needed and you will have the navigation zooms back. Be very careful to put things back exactly as they were. For example I created a directory called Google Earth Zooms on the computer hard drive. Under that I created a directory call Honduras Bay Islands. Drag the 'cache' directory from the Iexplore window onto it. To put it back drag the 'cache' directory onto the 'caches' directory above. This is standard stuff but you want to be fluent in moving stuff around between directories. Many people are not. Be warned!

Even Better...

There is retired systems analyst that has taken all this Google Earth navigation to the next level. He has developed a free package that will convert Google Earth zooms into actual .BSB navigation charts. There is even a plug in that allows it all to be done in OpenCPN. Download links are at It is even possible to overlay Google Earth zooms with charts and create combination charts.  The charts created work perfectly with GPSNavX and OpenCPN. It is a bit difficult getting them into Memory Map for iDevices. I have worked out a way to do it, but for my purposes just having the Google Earth zooms is painless and serves our purposes. Email me for more info if needed.

Pocket Earth

The final piece to the iDevice navigation scene for Passport is an app called PocketEarth Nav by Geomagik. Not to be confused with Pocket Earth by someone else that shows views of the earth from the sun or something. Pocket Earth uses Open Street Maps and provides worldwide free road maps. Open Street Maps is a map wicki which will improve as millions of nerds update the maps. I count myself among them. This summer I updated my neighborhood's roads, bike and hiking trails on OSM which now show up on Pocket Earth and any other app using OSM data. We have found it very useful navigating the towns and islands in the Caribbean. Most roads are already there and they are often better than in the expensive apps sold for individual countries. You need data service to get maps but once loaded the maps are available offline. The app does routing but is tricky and you have to be online to get a route which is then saved for offline. Routing is perhaps mostly useless compared to a good automotive GPS but at $1.99 we have found Pocket Earth to be very useful for finding our way around almost anywhere. For cruisers interested, it is pretty easy to take a track from a handheld GPS  and add hiking trails, roads not currently on the maps, and points of interest to Open Street Maps. Once entered they will show up on Pocket Earth within a week or two. Go to for more information on free membership and editing. There is also a topo map based version for hikers and cyclists.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Digicel Panama and the San Blas Islands

     Panama and the San Blas Islands have several options for cell service and internet.  I used Digicel there and it is the only provider I have information for.  There are some islands and anchorage's that cannot receive cell service in the San Blas, those that can are always more crowded.  While we used the iPhone primarily for internet and phone calls, we discovered that often iPad's had a better signal, and could oftentimes be surfing the web while the iPhone had no signal at all.

     For Digical in Panama all the codes are input using the phone dial pad.  To use the internet the APN must be set first.  If you have been using a cell phone or dongle for internet in other countries then you may already be familiar with this setting.  On an iPhone after, you have installed the Digicel sim card, the setting should be found under; Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data Network.  On an iPad it should be under; Settings > Cellular Data > APN Settings.
The settings are:
    Access# *99#

     The easiest way to add money to a Digicel prepaid sim card is to buy scratch off recharge cards available in several denominations.  Buy extras and only put the money on the sim card when you need it.  The instructions to use the recharge cards are written on the card.

    After you have money on phone, to get internet access type in *142*number# then hit CALL/SEND.
The different packages available (all in US dollars) are:
1 day for $0.75 - number = 40
1 week for $4.95 - number = 60
2 weeks for $8.00 - number = 80
1 month for $14.95 - number = 100

For example to purchase 2 weeks of internet data, on the phone dial pad type:  *142*80# then hit CALL/SEND.  There will be a verification message that needs to be accepted activate the internet package.
To accept: *142*1#
To cancel: *142*9#

     Unfortunately, I didn't get around to writing this entry while I was still in Panama and able to double check my notes.  Going from my notes, to get 100 US minutes for $1.99 type: *134 CALL/SEND.  That may just sign you up for the plan, or it may give you a list of the different packages available for calling  different countries.  If it gives a list, the list will contain the code for the package you want.  This is where I think I should have taken better notes!

Several other useful codes to know are:
To Check Balance on Phone:  *120#
To Check Phone Number: *129#
To Call Customer Support:  *100
To Check remaining data (internet): *120*3#
To Check the remaining minutes in a US calling plan:  *120*5#
To Renew a US calling plan:  *134*5*31#

Tigo Honduras - Using a local sim card

     The inexpensive availability of local cell service paired with smart phones and iPads has provided an easy and mostly reliable means of communication for cruisers and foreign travelers. We began cruising in 2008 with a Pactor modem and Kindles with 3g data service. The Pactor modem still gets used at sea, but the Kindles have become e-readers only. With the flood of iPhones on the used phone market, and the ease to unlock them, or buy one already unlocked, this has become our primary means of communication. Every country or island we arrive at, it's simply a matter of stopping in a local cell phone store getting a local sim card, popping it in the phone and voila! It's really that simple…. sorta.

      The catch is, every cell carrier, in every country have a slightly different method for using the sim card and activating the services. It can be difficult in the United States to decipher what services you are actually buying from the cell phone company and they are speaking English. The same is true for cell phone companies in the Caribbean except they are rarely speaking English. There are different codes to activate internet, or calling packages, sometimes there are great rates to call the US. It's just a matter of figuring out what the heck these codes and procedures are! Usually you can get an employee at the cell phone store to set it up for you, but that always leave you with the question of "Did they do it right?" I have had more than one experience of having data activated on my phone to find out later they didn't actually get it activated and the phone eats up any money left on the prepaid balance. The number one lesson here: Don't leave money on the phone that you don't want to lose.

      I am going to try and share the information that I have gathered in an attempt to help someone asking the same questions I had when I put my new sim card into my phone. This is not a complete step by step guide, but hopefully with help save someone else some time tracking down the answers.

      I know there is more than one cell phone carrier in Honduras, but when I checked in on the island of Guanaja, Tigo was my option, so it's Tigo that I have. It is pretty easy to go into any Tigo store or tienda that recharges Tigo phones to get more money put on the sim card, or buy little scratch off cards to recharge the phone. In keeping with my #1 rule to not have excess money on my phone I looked about for a way to recharge online. Sure enough on the home page for Tigo Honduras I found a little yellow button to recharge (recarga aqua). I went through the process of setting up an online account (Registrate). My first few uses of this were great. I did find that sometimes I had to clear out my internet browser cookies to be able to log back into the account. And then I've had some issues with it not allowing me to complete my purchase, telling me I have exceeded my monthly or daily purchase limit. If it works, it's simple and great, and if it doesn't… well not so great.

      Once I have money on the phone, to check the balance on the phone: on the phone dial pad key in #123# and CALL/SEND. A text screen will pop up with the money balance in Limpira (the Honduran currency).

      To make local calls just keep a little extra money on the phone card.

      To add an internet plan to the phone: on the phone dial pad key in #111# and CALL/SEND. A menu will pop up on the screen with numbered options. Internet is option 5, Hit the "Reply" button at the bottom of the screen. A new screen will pop up with the same list, type in the selection "5" and hit the reply button at the top of the screen. A new menu pops up with only two internet plan options, choosing "0 Siguiente" will take you to more options. One more selection of "0 Siguiente" will take you to the last three options. I either choose "7" For 2GB of internet for 1 week at L.150 or "8" for 4GB of internet for 1 month at L.500. You will receive confirmation text messages when the transaction is complete.

      After you have activated an internet package, to check the data usage from the phone or a connected computer you can go to This may or may not actually show you the data usage on your phone. It may or may not be accurate.

      There are cheap calling packages to buy minutes to call the US/Canada, there are other country option packages as well but I have not explored the options and am not familiar with them. The tricky thing with the international minutes is that they expire at midnight the day they are purchased, so just buy what you need a the time you plan to use it.
#111# and CALL/SEND
Reply "4" (International) REPLY
Reply and choose your package USA/Canada 60 Minutes for L.30, USA/Canada 15 minutes for L.10 or explore the other options.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


When standing on the brink of demolition to begin renovations, there is a point where the question must be asked:  Will I make it better or worse?  Of course the goal is to make it better, but will something get damaged unexpectedly in the process of taking it apart?   Are there unexpected surprises, not necessarily good ones, lurking under the surface?    These are all questions that must be faced and evaluated, or just completely ignored and hope for the best.  We had a couple improvement projects that were touch and go for a little while. 
When we began evaluating moving the quarter berth shelf and found that it was recessed into both bulkheads, it was a little hard to tell what it would entail moving it.  As it turned out it was not so difficult, and only left a few areas that needed trim.  The contemplation of how much worse we could make it, turned out to be far more stressful than the actual process that went very well.
Our biggest surprises came in more unexpected areas.  The nav station desk was one of the first items we stripped to re-varnish.  Our first surprise was finding that the wood was a very different color.  If it’s teak, it’s a very white teak, I think it more likely that it is spruce and was disguised as teak under the factory finish.  The original finish was colored and somewhat opaque to hide the grain.  Once we saw what we had, this became one of the last items to get varnished.  In the end it turned out well, but it took some trial and error mixing stains into the varnish and getting a color that at least blends in with the boat.
And then we come to the dining table.  We contemplated long and hard as to what to do with it.  The varnish had deteriorated over the years, leaving many small black dots where the wood was exposed.  When the rest of the varnish was finished and turned out well, and the nav desk was under control, we chose to jump in; strip the table and re-varnish.  It didn’t take too long till we discovered this was an “oh s*#%” project.  It turned out that the veneer was as thin as paper, and in a lot of places came off with the varnish.  After much rum and contemplation it was decided to buy some veneer and re-do it.  Our table was not just a solid sheet of veneer though, rather it radiated into a center point.  So of course we wanted to replicate the original.  It turned out that all my unused quilting tools came in very useful for cutting and fitting the pieces of veneer.  In the end the new table has turned out very nice, although it was an extra project we could have done without.  I will assure in the future the varnish remains in good shape with refresher coats, never to be stripped again.
The Quarter-berth with new trim varnished.
The quarter-berth new shelf varnished.

The original nav desk.

Starting to varnish the nav desk.

The completed nav desk.
The original table.

The stripped table.

The now missing veneer.

Piecing together new veneer.

The finished table.

The finished galley.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Boat Yard

Day 92 of our 30 day stay in the boat yard.   So for everyone that thinks we are floating around in tropical waters sipping rum … life is currently a very different story.  There’s not a whole lot of fun involved at the moment, unless you consider sanding, varnishing and crawling in small spaces to install a generator fun, then by all means get down here, this is the time of your life you are missing! 
The decks took nearly a month, but they are officially done.   We hired Flavit and his crew to do the work, they do a good job, are hard workers, always happy and easy to get along with.  The big however is that any project really needs to be supervised very closely, and there are quite a few issues that need to be looked out for to avoid problems with the finished result (or time in a redo).  Flavit and his crew may not get it just right on the first go around, and they may make some seemingly novice mistakes, but he will do anything you ask to make it right.
  Just as we came into the boat yard we had the opportunity to talk with two other cruisers who just had their decks done by Flavit, and were given the pitfalls to avoid, we learned a few more in the process.  We were warned to check the tape very closely when they taped off the deck to spray the gel-coat.  I did.  I re-taped much of it.  We were also warned to mix PLENTY of gel-coat, and make sure it was mixed well throughout the process.  They ended up with the color changing as they got to the end of the bucket, as it wasn’t mixed thoroughly, and ran out of gel-coat having to remix and repaint the entire deck.   The mixing process here is standing over a bucket of gel-coat, with red, yellow, blue and black:  mix till you like the color.  If you have ever stood over paint chips picking out the perfect not quite white, white, then you know how hard it can be to choose a shade.  We wanted a not quite white similar to our hull.  So a little red, a little yellow .. mix .. compare to the last sample etc, until you can’t tell what any of them look like.  When we finally got a color we were happy with, I certainly didn’t want to repeat that process again.  On that go around, we did have plenty of gel-coat and were able to finish the job on one mixing.  It would have been nice if it was one spray as well.  The spraying went okay, but he chose the windiest day we had out of the month to spray, which blew a lot of dirt into the gel-coat.  A bad decision.  Spraying should only be done on days with no to little wind, it’s still a dirty place so dirt is an issue, but why not minimize.  When they sanded down the gel-coat, they went through all the layers in several places and those had to be taped off again and repainted, it turned out okay,  but not as well as if it had been right to start with.  Faced with it again, I would insist he spray twice, once the first day and again the day after to assure a good coat everywhere.  And then we get to apply to nonskid.  The choices here are a very very fine nonskid that he sprays on, and the other is a much larger texture.  We went for the larger, which has to be rolled on.  Mixing grey was every bit as much fun as mixing white.  The first go around, black was added to the white and put on the deck.  The next day we looked at the deck, it was grayish with a very strong blue tone.  The nonskid was very rough and very sharp.  After a while of talking we found out that it would be better if it was sanded a little, this wasn’t just done or offered we had to ask.  So it gets sanded we mix up a new color, trying to make sure there was no blue tone to it, we erred on the side of green, but just barely and it looked okay, however there were places that stayed soft and never dried right.  When wet there were places that had been sanded too hard and were just plain slick.  So once again tape off and re-do the non-skid.  This time we forgot to mention ‘get plenty of gel-coat’, apparently it’s a reminder that has to be said every time.  The painstaking process of mixing grey, resulted in a very nice grey, no blue, no green, just a nice light grey. We got down the first coat, with new non-skid compound.  On the previous applications when rolling the gel-coat, they would put the gel-coat in a tray add a capful of activator, to harden it, mix it around with the roller and apply.  I’m sure you can imagine that it was quite easy to get spots of gel-coat on the deck that would contain little to no activator, not harden well and get ground in with dirt.  We had them mix in a separate container and pour into the tray, even then they had to be watched closely to make sure they didn’t use any right out of the mixing container.  By this point we want to be done with the decks and not have any more mistakes.  At the end of day the decks looked great, the color was perfect.  Day two would be lightly sanding the non-skid and applying two new coats.  But we didn’t have enough mixed gel-coat!  We were able to mix a nearly exact match of the grey, but that hour could easily have been spent doing something else if we had enough to start with.  The first go around with the nonskid many of the edges where the tap had been were also ground with dirt and didn’t look so good, it may have been the tape residue rubbed into the gel-coat before it set completely, we are not really sure as we didn’t watch them take the tape off the first time.  We opted to take the tape off ourselves the second time and mostly not walk on the gel-coat at all for a couple of days to let it fully cure.  The tape removal process was very slow and tedious.  Some places the gel-coat was quite thick over the tape and hard to break/cut with a knife to peel up the tape.   It would have been better if they were more careful in the application near the tape, keeping the edges thinner and barely overlapping the tape.  The green tape that is available here will leave a very sticky residue just after a day, if possible the blue tape is much better to use, bring some from the states or another country if you can, I have seen some available in one of the marine stores here in Cartagena.  In the end, the decks look great, and Flavit did a great job, we would highly recommend his work to other cruisers. 
As with most boat projects it’s not a far leap from one project to lead to yet another project.  While we had Flavit working on our decks, we had him do some fiberglass work for us.  When we repaired damage from the lightning strike in Grenada we moved some instruments from the cockpit up to a Navpod over the companionway.  This was a big improvement, making them much more visible and accessible, but didn’t look the best.  Flavit fiberglassed a custom navpanel over our companionway, it looks great and gave us more space to mount cockpit speakers.  And since we were into fiberglass…. When we bought the boat she had a deck mounted life raft, which was well out of inspection.  Instead of shelling out the money for an inspection that may or may not pass we replaced the life raft with a Winslow that stows below decks.  Instead of getting rid of the life raft deck box we used it to store our folding kayaks.  This worked well but was not the easiest to get into, so we had a new deck box built, with a hinged lid it’s easy to access, and a little bigger in the same space. 
            One project leading to another … for the past two years we have had trouble with our windlass blowing breakers, not going up or down at very inopportune times.  IB had added a new breaker mucked with wires and other stuff.  We were contemplating getting a new windlass when we took the old one off the deck and discovered no main bearing at all, it was completely worn away, and the mount was completely corroded through on one of the three legs.  So a new windlass went onto the project list; one of the quicker projects to complete. 
            I took advantage of not using the dingy and having a room to work in to make a set of dingy chaps to cover the top of the dingy.  Saving it from damage due to UV and not so great dingy docks.  I even found a bit of Spectra fabric hiding in my fabric supplies, after quite a bit of effort getting it cut I reinforced the front panel with it, nothing is going to abrade through that!
            The other sewing project to take advantage of the extra space was replacing the UV cover on the staysil, and repairing a few rips.  I got one place repaired, only to find two others harder to reach.  I spent a day removing the old UV cover, taking out all the threads and cutting out the new cover.  When I started assembling and sewing I had some trouble with the machine jamming and breaking needles.  When I saw the amount of area that would need hand sewn because my machine could not stitch through it I gave up and went to a sail repair shop.  Using all my supplies, even my thread since it was better quality than what they have available, the cost was $40 USD.  That was very much worth letting the repair shop sew it for me.
            The interior varnish has just been time consuming.  We completely stripped the galley.  The varnish had completely worn through in spots, and just didn’t look good.  Luckily most of the boat was still in good shape and just got/ is getting a good cleaning, sanding and refresher coats.  It seems my life for the past month and a half or more has been; wake up, sand, varnish, repeat.  I am finally nearing a point where there is an end in site.
            Since we were here, and found a good way to ship items in from the US, thinking of future plans to spend time in the San Blas islands and possibly head into the south pacific, we decided to install an AquaGen (a DC generator and watermaker).  The watermaker makes 24 gal/hr, the luxuries of abundant clean fresh water, and no need to worry about the water source.  Many times we fill up with water at marinas but don’t really know how safe the water is. IB has been working on the generator install for the past two weeks or so.  A space had to first be made for it, by moving the autopilot.  Once he got it physically mounted, and we started looking for a place to mount the control panel.  The decision ended up with building a box and mounting it over the shelf in the quarter berth, which led to moving the shelf up 6”.  Something I had wanted to do for a while, I just didn’t have a good enough reason to make it a priority project for IB.  The control panel did the trick!  And it’s great news for any guests, since they will now have space under the shelf to actually roll over.  I’ll never understand the original reasoning to put that shelf so low over a bed.  The generator install sadly will not be finished.  We have long overstayed our intended stay and will have more to do when we return from the US in the fall.
            I’m quite sure there are smaller simpler projects that got done as well; I just can’t remember what they are right now!  And it’s time for me to head out and start sanding.
Flavit spraying the gel-coat on the decks.
Applying the non-skid compound.

The finished decks.

The space created for the generator.
The generator in it's little cubby hole.

The new deck box.

The new instrument panel with speakers.

The new Maxwell Liberty 2500 windlass.

The completed dingy chaps.

Replacing the UV cover on the staysil.

The completed galley varnish .. what doesn't look finished? We may have a different definition of finished these days!

The quarter berth shelf moved up 6 inches.

A mini shelf built into the cover trim.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Capital One: A Rant

Credit cards are an important part of cruising, we use them for everything we can.  It’s easier and more convenient than keeping cash around.  I am fortunate to have inherited USAA benefits and have never had a problem with banking from abroad with them.  I have on a few occasions had them cancel my credit card and reissue a new one when a credit card server has been compromised.  This can be a hassle but is also a good safety from having my card number stolen and used.  They will FedEx a new card to any location in the world, as I’ve known cruisers who have encountered this with them while in the Bahamas.  That can alter plans as even FedEx can take a while to arrive in some destinations.  I solved the problem simply by having a spare card I can activate if needed.  The only drawback is that there is a 1% foreign transaction charge.  This is really not a large amount of money, but eventually over the year it does add up, especially if any large purchases are made.  When I heard that Capital One has no foreign transaction fees it sounded like a good reason to get a Capital One card.  I had no idea what I was signing up for.
            I signed up for a card in my name and added my husband to the account.  This however means they will not talk to him about the account at all, even though he’s authorized to make purchases.  Since I’m usually the one dealing with the banking this is not really a problem.  When I called in to activate the card, I had the most annoyingly thorough verification process I have ever experienced.  I lost 40 minutes of my life that day. 
We happily used the card a few times and then poof it was declined.  Half an hour later after a phone tree and being on hold, I could talk to someone who turned my card back on.  It was used in a foreign country so that automatically triggers a possible fraud alert.  I informed them that I would be traveling in foreign countries for the foreseeable future and please note that on the account.  I should have realized I’d be in for trouble when they wanted to know how many days that would be. 
            I never considered my credit limit on my card since I always pay it off right away, but when were struck by lightning in Grenada and looking at paying out nearly $20000 until we got the insurance settlement suddenly the credit limit was important.  I called to ask for a raise and they simply said it was declined.  No reason would be given.  Google helped me find out that they simply have a policy of never increasing a credit limit when asked; it would have been nice if they could have told me that.  So we just signed up for a second card, I put it in IB’s name and poof we got a higher credit limit.  This is when the real fun began. 
They allowed us to use the new card to charge over $4000, and then chose to put a hold on the account for possible fraud.  So now we can’t use the card, we can’t access the account online to pay the bill and if we don’t sort it out it will go to collections and reflect on our credit score.  Eventually they did send a paper bill and I had my ‘secretary’ back in the states mail a check to pay it.  When we called to sort it out, they won’t speak to me, because it’s IB’s card.  They run him through the various security questions and then tell him they don’t believe he’s IB and he needs to identify his identity.  What?  I don’t know if they already had something flagged on his account or if he answered a question wrong, which can happen a lot with us.  Since we have a skype phone number, a local (whatever country) cell phone, and sometimes I’ve used my mom’s number.  Usually we always use our PO Box address from WV, expect some things still have our land home address, but Capital One insists on a physical address, as if we all are supposed to fit into this “American” mold.  So I used my mom’s address.  It’s really easy to be confused over security questions with our lifestyle; sometimes it can take me three tries.  Either way they now want a utility bill, his social security card and his drivers license or passport faxed to them before they will even speak to him!  Of course no one understands why we can’t produce a utility bill, that’s unfathomable.  And no bank account with a physical address?? Unheard of!  And really does everyone carry a social security card around these days?  Well he actually did that for many years, which is why you can’t actually read it anymore.  Eventually we did change the address with our bank, wait for a new bank statement and faxed that to them with the illegible social security card over an internet fax site with the credit card number .. and this is more secure than asking a few questions on the phone???  Well they apparently got the documents because they called, but of course wouldn’t speak to me, even though they called, and know my name since it’s listed on his account.  They would not even tell me if they have all the required information to turn the account on or not at this point.  We are seven months into this and still don’t have a useable card.  During this time my card has been turned off three times for suspected fraud, luckily they seem to always believe I am who I say I am when I call in, but it still means always carrying a second card because I never know when it will work.  I’ve never experienced such ridiculous frustration; perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by USAA.  I’m starting to think 1% is not so bad, at least I know my card will work, and my bank will work with me not against me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Dry Land

It comes around every few years, like it or not.  We procrastinate, push back deadlines, and scrape the bottom to get by for just a few more months, but inevitably in the life of every cruiser comes the day that the boat must be hauled out of the water.  A year ago we were forced to switch to a new insurance company while in Georgetown, Exumas, when we discovered our current company did not insure the Caribbean.  We were fortunate to find a company that would insure us for one year before requiring a new survey, a very good thing since Georgetown was not known as somewhere you wanted your boat hauled out unless absolutely necessary.  A year sounded like plenty of time … that was a year ago.  Last fall, while in Grenada, we were supposed to complete our haul out for our survey, install a new transducer and inspect for lightning damage after our strike.  We managed to put it off till Colombia.  We almost tried to extend it for another few months and go to Panama first, but finally bit the bullet and hauled out two weeks shy of our one-year deadline.
            Cartagena, Colombia has three options for haul out yards:  Manzanillo Marina Club, Todomar CHL Marina, and Ferroalquimar.  We had several very high recommendations on hauling out at Manzanillo and they have a couple of rooms to rent, so we decided to go with them since we really don’t want to live on the boat for a month on land.  A boat on land means, no refrigerator, no toilet, and climbing a ladder to get on and off.  Generally not a fun experience, and add some messy dirty work to the mix and you get the picture.  Our initial plan to paint the bottom, maintenance that needs done every couple of years to prevent the bottom of the boat from becoming a reef, and survey has grown and taken on a life of it’s own.  Somewhere way down on our project list was to repaint the decks.  The nonskid was worn off in places, most of the rest is very oxidized, and a few fiberglass repairs need done.  Even though this is expected to be a very expensive job, we had a quote of over $20,000 in the US on our last (smaller) boat, we figured why not just get a quote and see.  Well, when the quote came back for about $4000, to have the decks gel-coated it was hard to say no.  Gel-coat is usually harder to apply and often found just on new boats, but it’s something they do here and do relatively well.  So we are taking stuff off the decks, taping things up and getting it done.  The bottom paint is getting done, but going one step farther and stripping all the old paint off, adding some barrier coat and new toxic paint to keep the marine life in the sea and off our boat.  Inside the boat, we have a great opportunity to refresh the interior wood with a nice coat of varnish while we don’t have to sleep in the boat; as well as some other small projects.
            We are getting settled into our apt, it’s no 5-star resort, but it does have A/C, a small kitchenette, and enough space I can get some sewing projects done out of the heat.
Moving the travel lift over the boat to place the straps underneath.

Pulling the straps up tight and making sure the boat is centered.

Lifting the boat out of the water.

Moving her onto land.

Moving her to her new parking space.

Parked on land.