Sunday, July 20, 2014

Finding Your Way...For Free

One of the more annoying aspects of owning a small aircraft was the limitations the FAA placed on navigation equipment.  Anything installed in a certified aircraft had to be approved by the FAA and this approval process was expensive and time consuming and the cost was naturally passed on to the customers.  Spending $15,000 U.S. or more to install a GPS navigation radio with a 3 inch by 4 inch screen was the norm. When small laptops and tablets became available, a whole new "affordable" option became available and now I don't know many pilots that fly without having one on board.

While chart plotters for boats are not as expensive, they can still be several thousand to purchase and install. And if you want to go low-tech and simply use paper charts for navigation these days, you may find it difficult to find a map (as noted in this story from Sail magazine).  My boat has a chart plotter at the helm, but my aviation days taught me the benefits of redundancy.Without finding reasonable cost paper charts, I've found a low-cost solution that both provides official charts and acts as a backup for my chart plotter.

Did I say low cost?  It is actually free.  The program is called OpenCPN and it runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac.  This program allows you to view both official electronic data just like your chart plotter as well as geo-referenced images (called raster images) of the official paper charts.  Below are a couple snapshots of the two views using the Beaufort NC inlet.

Beaufort NC Raster Image (chart) view

Beaufort NC Vector Data (chart plotter) view.
The electronic chart plotter (vector) data view is a bit cluttered in the above image but I wanted to show you some of the detail available.  When you zoom in or out of an area, the application will automatically filter the data to make it more readable.  Zooming in or out of the chart (raster) view, the application will load the maps at the appropriate scale (provided you have downloaded them) so you can see details when you need to or get the "big picture" view when viewing a whole region.

The software alone is sufficient for reading charts and navigational data as well as planning routes. Oh, and did I mention that it can load and display GRIB data too?  You can display predicted wind speed and direction, pressure bands, wave height, currents, etc. right on either view (but you may need to zoom out a bit more than depicted above to see it).

OpenCPN is the application to view charts and navigation data, but it does not come with that data.  Instead, it reads chart data from a variety of providers.  In the U.S., NOAA provides both the electronic chart plotter (vector) data as well as geo-referenced chart (raster) images for free.  Other countries provide one or both data types for free or a nominal charge.  The OpenCPN site provides an overview of where you can find charts for various locations here.

The software can also display position and course information provided you can provide GPS data to the program.  This shows you where you are at any given time and can also record tracks (all the tracks I've posted on the blog recently are images from OpenCPN) and provide basic navigational information like course and ETA.

I want to provide more detail on how to download and setup the application and charts, as well as a couple of ways to get GPS data to the application (including a free one if you have an Android based phone), but this post is getting rather long I guess I'll be doing a part 2.

In the meantime, if you want to check out the application, you can download it and/or find installation instructions here.  Documentation can be found here.  For the current U.S. chart (raster) images, you can get them here.

I assume most cruisers, at least the ones reading and writing blogs, carry one or more computers on board so this should be a low cost option for navigational data.  And even if you don't have a supported laptop, you should be able to get one for 10~20% of the cost of a dedicated chart plotter.  And it is generally easier to update the software as things change than it is to update your dedicated chart plotter.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Budgeting Freedom Chips

Mowing the lawn is one of those tasks I certainly did not miss when living on the boat. But, while I am here in Colorado, it has been one of my chores as we work on the house.  So, a couple days ago as I was mowing the lawn, the new neighbor that moved in across the street was in her car with what sounded like talk radio playing really loudly.

As I bag up the grass clippings, I start to hear a much softer voice in the background.  Is my neighbor talking to the radio?  Then I realize that it wasn't talk radio, but she was using her car's Bluetooth phone interface to carry on a conversation.  And with the radio so loud, it is virtually impossible (for anyone in the neighborhood) to ignore half of the conversation. The call was clearly work-related and it sounds like my new neighbor is some sort of personal financial planner.

The discussion was about how their client was having trouble keeping within her budget. It sounded like, while she had more than sufficient budget to provide for life's daily necessities and then some, she would continue to overspend each month.  I went back to mowing the lawn but started thinking about their client.

I thought about a post I made a while back on money and how it actually equates to a person's freedom. I wondered if their client was similar to other people I've encountered (including myself) that would often go buy things in an attempt to fill some sort of void in their life.  I pondered if the person's view of their budget would change if it were more obvious to them that they were trading part of their lifetime for whatever things were blowing the budget.  And maybe if they were enjoying their life a bit more, they wouldn't feel the need to spend their freedom on these things.

Of course, I only got half of the conversation so I don't know the whole story...and I'm sure the client, whoever she is, is probably happy about that.  But it does remind me that there are a lot of people out there running in the rat race because it is what society expects of them, they aren't that happy, and they never questioned that there may be other ways.  If my neighbor's client figures out there may be better ways (or that her financial problems are being aired throughout our neighborhood), she may regain some of her budget. And when she fires the people telling her to work more and spend less maybe she can figure out the underlying cause that makes her overspend and just perhaps she can regain some of her freedom.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hurricane Arthur

Shortly after purchasing Rover last December, I had to leave our future home in Hammock Beach Florida and return to Colorado.  I would be coming back in about a month to start living aboard and fixing up the boat.  Well, while I was gone a tornado hit the Palm Coast and Hammock beach area.  There was a bit of stress after I heard about the tornado, but it was a short lived event and didn't take very long for me to find out that our future home was OK.  Fortunately for us, the tornado didn't come all that close to the marina and our boat remained safe.

Fast Forward about 6 months and now there is a hurricane that has the possibility of making a pass over or near our boat.  And again, I am not near the boat.  Of course this time I hear about the hurricane well before it could become an issue so I have much more time to worry about it.  I did my best to clean up the boat before I left it, however, for expediency I was having a local sail loft come retrieve the sails, sail pack, and trampoline to do a little work while I am gone.  I did confirm a few days ago that the sail loft did retrieve the "hanging canvas", so I can only hope that the boat is in as good a condition as possible to weather any potential storms.

Hurricane Arthur Track from Weather Underground

I watch as Arthur passes by each of the places were Rover and I had stayed and takes a path similar to the path I took to move the boat north (ironically to adhere to my insurance policies requirement of where I needed to be during hurricane season).  From Hammock Beach through Jacksonville Florida and on to Brunswick Georgia all seem safe and pretty far west of the storms path.

The storm starts coming closer to the east coast and the eye of the storm passes near Southport, NC. where I spent a little over a week.  It officially made landfall near Beaufort/Morehead City NC. where I made landfall after departing Southport weeks before.  The storm crosses the Pamlico Sound and passes over Cape Hattaras, the "magic point" my insurance required that I be north of during the June 1 to November 1 hurricane season.

The storm path wobbles and veers west and then back east and finally the outer bands of the hurricane pass over where Rover sits on land in Deltaville while the eye heads back out into the Atlantic.

Arthur passing "near" our boat (red circle).

I haven't heard any reports from the yard, but presume my boat is safe.  It sounds like the winds in the area probably topped out around 30 knots.  If anything, I suspect the storms were worse than the winds but I probably won't know for sure until folks return from the US independence day holiday.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Entertainment Downsizing

Moving from a couple thousand square foot home to a 38 foot by 21 foot catamaran is definitely an exercise in downsizing.  I'm pretty sure the closet in the house's master bedroom has more storage space than Rover. So, obviously, you try to save space wherever you can as you move aboard a boat.

One of the things I've been doing since I returned to Colorado is consolidating my music collection onto a portable hard-drive.  It takes a little time, but the result is I can backup my entire purchased music collection on a single hard drive that is smaller than a pair of CD cases (I can actually store most of it on a solid state thumb drive).

I wish there was an easy way to convert old books to a digital format. Converting the pounds of bulky paper into something more potable and storage friendly would be great.  Guess I may have to see if I can find digital versions of my favorite books. I'm also trying to read a number of books so I don't have to take them along, including a number of books I was given as a gift that I intend to pay forward when I get through them.(NOTE: One exception here is repair manuals...when things go wrong I think I want to be able to access those when everything, including electronic devices, fail).

 It would be nice to have a legal way to make copies of movies I own for my personal it would save me additional space.  For the movies, I guess I'll just have to put the DVD's I want to keep into a single, multi-disc, carrying case.

Anyone else have any suggestions on how to reduce the storage space of entertainment items like books, movies, and music?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Losing Even More

Last time I mentioned how I had lost a few things and that those losses were good things.  Well, the good losses continue.  This past weekend we had the first of what will undoubtedly be several garage sales as we continue to trade all of this stuff we have accumulated for our freedom.

If I knew then what I know now I certainly wouldn't have bought some of this stuff...but as I've admitted before, I was somewhat the good little American consumer that our society trained us to be since we were children.  Fortunately neither my wife nor I have ever been big spenders or overly compelled to "keep up with the Joneses", so the damage to our freedom isn't nearly as bad as it could have been.  Still, even recouping a small percentage of the price paid for many of these things we no longer need feels really good.

We held the sale on Friday and Saturday and had an assortment of items available.  We had some tools, kitchen equipment, dishes, artwork, camping gear, electronics, and the list goes on.  It was really only a very small subset of the items we need to get rid of, but was a good start and filled the garage.  I forgot how much of a pain it is to price things for a garage sale.  On one hand, you want to get a reasonable price for things in order to justify having the sale but you also want the items gone (to me the one thing worse than not getting a reasonable price for things would be to have to pay to get rid of them).  We decided to try and price things around 10 cents on the dollar of replacement cost, with some exceptions for condition or the type of item.

Since we had more to sell than would fit in the garage, I often told those that stopped by to let me know if there was anything in particular they were looking for. A few folks took us up on the offer and we did sell a few things that weren't originally out for the sale. We continued to "restock" as items were sold, so it is hard to get an accurate idea of how much we purged.

We got rid of a few big items that has made some extra space in the garage/house.  In the end we did regain over a thousand dollars worth of our freedom.  Not too shabby.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sometimes Loss is a Good Thing

Since I got back to Colorado, I've had a few interesting losses.

When I started this adventure, one of my hopes was that a more active outdoor lifestyle would improve my health.  Well, I didn't think too much of needing to buy a belt while I was in Brunswick (I just figured the waistbands on my old pants were stretching). But, after arriving in Denver, I did step on a scale (I didn't have one on the boat).  To my surprise I had lost about 35 pounds without any attempt to diet.  My only difference was cooking at home more and working on the boat more than sitting behind the "glowing boxes" (computers, televisions) most of the day.  One benefit I had hoped for seems to be realized.  A big win for me.

I've also suffered from a couple kidney stones in recent years.  I apparently have a genetic predisposition for them as my father suffers from them periodically as well.  Over the past dozen or more years I've had a couple "procedures" to remove stones.  Late last year, before I left to go live on the boat, my doctor found another stone and an ESWL procedure was performed to break up the stone in hopes that it would pass.  Shortly before leaving, they did an x-ray and found that most of the stone had passed but there was a small stubborn fragment that was still stuck in my kidney.  We tried using an inversion table and a few other techniques to try to get it to pass, but it would not budge.  So, I left for the boat with the fragment and instructions to "keep an eye on it".

Since I am back in Colorado, it seemed like a good time to go to the doctor to check up on the stone.  I went to the doctor a few days ago, got the usual X-ray, and waited for the doctor.  Imagine my surprise when the doctor came in and told me that they saw no signs of the stone fragment.  Apparently I had passed the thing.  Woohoo!  I hadn't really thought of it until now, but I didn't start having stone issues until I was firmly settled in my software engineering career (and associated sedentary lifestyle).  I now wonder if it is the lack of movement while sitting behind a computer all day is a big part of stone formation.  Getting out and moving about...and maybe hanging from the mast a time or two...definitely seems to help them pass.  Regardless of the reason, I'm very happy to be stone free again and I hope it stays that way now.

It really seems to me that our, or at least my, modern lifestyle is not a good thing for long term health.  Being sedentary isn't good, sitting for long periods isn't good, stress isn't good...and the list goes on.

Speaking of stress, I've lost something that was causing a lot of stress in my life as well.  My job.  During the last boat move from Southport to Deltaville, it became very apparent to me that my wife and I really need to shift things into high gear and move on with our lives.  The reason I came back to Colorado is to help in that regard.  Working full time has limited the amount of time I've been able to dedicate to our new life.  Add in that the working conditions, management, and morale have continued to degrade at the job over the last year and it made the decision to leave a fairly easy one.  I submitted my resignation, including a two week notice, when I returned to Colorado. The company apparently decided that they didn't want me to transfer any additional knowledge of the projects I was working on to anyone else and released me the next day.  Guess it was good for them that I had already been transferring knowledge so my departure would be reasonably smooth and there are only a few systems that people will have to go figure out on their own.  At least one of us was professional about it.

So, over the past weeks and months I've lost a few things...and all for the better.  I can't wait to get back to the boat and my new, healthier, life.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Moving Forward

For the next couple months my posts may be a bit more sporadic.  I have returned to Colorado to help my wife with our house.  We have lived in the home for over 17 years so there is a lot to go through before we can put it up for sale.  A lot of stuff to sell and even more to throw recycle.  I don't think we will have to do as much work on the house as we did with my father in law's place, but it still will take a little time. The local housing market seems to be pretty good right now, so I hope we can get the house up for sale soon.

Meanwhile, the boat is on the hard getting a little work done.  I'd prefer to do most of the work myself (particularly due to some of my recent experiences with "professionals" in the boating world), but many folks in the Deltaville, VA. area have good reviews for their work so I am hopeful.  Unfortunately I simply cannot be in two places at once.

So, I'll post when I have something interesting to report, but I'll assume you all know what it is like cleaning up a house so I won't bore you with that.  Wish me luck.