Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bikes!

Ever since I started living on the boat, I realized that having a bicycle would be a good thing. Thus far I've had a car to help get me from place to place, but eventually the plan is not to have one.  It is a pain to move the car whenever you move the boat and, well, they don't float, so taking it down island isn't a possibility. There have been a number of times, even with the car, I would have rather had a bike.  In Brunswick it was just as easy to go downtown on a bicycle as it was in a car.  Just getting around a marina is often easier and faster on a bike.

I've been a bit hesitant to get one for a couple reasons.  First is rust.  Coming from a state where humidity levels above 50% would be considered pretty humid and there are no corrosive salts to contend with, I was worried that any bike would turn to a pile of rust on a boat. The other issue is simply where to put the things. While I would have loved to keep our crossover bikes, they could have only been stored out on deck. A folding bicycle would be better as we could store them in one of the spare berths, but I wondered how well they worked since I hadn't ever used one.

I had been keeping an eye on Craigslist for a while now and what I was finding was that the only folding bikes that seemed to come up were the rather expensive ones...and even used they wanted a pretty hefty price.  I'm sure the bikes are worth it, but I'm not sure I know how to take care of an $800 bicycle, even if I can get it for $300~400.  If anyone has any tips for combating rust on such things, please let me know (I've heard recommendations for all sorts of things from linseed oil, waxes, and WD-40...and equal numbers saying to never use the exact same things).

Well, remember that trip to Camping World?  The reason we were there wasn't to find a washing machine, but instead the purpose was to look at some inexpensive folding bikes they carry, see if we could ride one, and generally try to determine if they were worth having.  We figured we would find some folding bikes to try when we were down here in Florida, but the only places we've found that carry them are West Marine and Camping World.  Since Camping World had a bike for $140 on sale (about 1/4 the price of the used ones or the ones at West Marine), we decided we would go check them out.  After a brief test ride, we decided to take a couple home.


The bikes we got are the Adventurer 6-speed folding bike. While not the best quality, they were reasonable quality and I think would serve our purpose well. They are a steel and alloy frame as best I can tell, so rust may be an issue if the paint chips and on exposed parts (like the chain). They ride fairly well for a small folding bicycle with a short wheel base. Given the size of the bike, seat adjustment is a bit limited and I could probably use an additional inch myself, but most under 5'11" or so should be OK with the fit. The derailleurs are Shimano..at least a recognizable name. The bike comes with fenders and a carrier rack, two reasonable features for land transportation for a cruiser.

Buying a bike from Camping World (or any other non-bike specific shop) can be an issue for those not knowledgeable in bicycle repair and maintenance.  The bike came in the original box with no setup or tuning.  When we got them home I had to adjust the derailleurs to get them to shift correctly and adjust the brakes to get them to stop squeaking and work properly (one of the pads was actually loose).  One of the bikes had a brake cable adjustment that was cross threaded and we had to go back to Camping World where they let me swap the part out on their floor model (which had another issue with the handlebar so we couldn't just swap the entire bike).  But, after getting everything set up, I've been pleased with the initial use of the bikes.


As I hinted to above, I don't get full leg extension, but it is pretty close...and something I can live with for a folding bike.  The 6 speeds seem to be about right for the bike.  I was able to take it over the nearby ICW fixed bridge (65' height at center) comfortably in first gear.  5th or 6th gears seem to be good for flat to slightly downhill cruising.  In general I don't seem to miss the lack of an additional 15 gears to choose from on a larger bike.  The wheel base is short, so it feels just a bit less stable than a full size bike, but I only really have any issue with it during slow speed maneuvering and am still able to ride it up and down the dock ramps without feeling like I'm going to crash.

So, if I can keep it from rusting apart, I think we have a reasonable solution for now.  Given the price, it seems like a good bike to "learn about" living with bikes on a boat even if we make some mistakes and they do rust apart.  Now, should I go try to find some Boeshield, ACF-50, or linseed oil to coat the thing....hmm....

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

For Dogs That Don't Like Water...

I've long held the belief that our dogs just weren't all that fond of water.  But after taking them to the beach many of the days we've been here, it seems I was wrong.  They really like the beach and playing in the surf.

Who me...wet...nah.

What water?

I think they are adjusting to beach and salt life just fine...


So, I guess it is just fresh water...or more likely baths...they don't like.  They don't seem all that thrilled at the rinse showers at the beach but put up with it for the chance to go play in the surf.  I think the sea may have even shaven a couple years off of how Madison (our 11 year old - the darker one) feels.  It had been a while since I've seen her chase Tucker around.

I'm glad they are enjoying themselves.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Trying to Keep a Few Conveniences

As anyone who has done it will tell you, going cruising is not without a lot of sacrifices.  Among those sacrifices are a lot of modern conveniences.  Just the other day we were chatting with a couple who arrived at the marina after a year-long cruise with their kids, and the wife mentioned that she was really looking forward to having a dishwasher again.  So, with all that we give up I've tried to bend a bit when I think it makes sense.  One of the conveniences we have been considering making room for on the boat is a clothes washer.  In fact, I posted about this topic a couple months back.

While I had noted a variety of options for washing clothes, the limited amount of space we have really only leaves the smaller counter top portable washers as a possible option.  I have a few places on the boat that would prefer lighter things be stored there and what essentially equates to a motorized bucket could find a home there...if it worked.

And, really, while the washing function could be handy, the bit we are really interested in is the spin dry feature.  A number of these machines have, or are, a small tub that spins fast and can extract water out of clothes without requiring heat (the more costly part of the typical dryers operation).  Living in more humid locations now, the idea of waiting all day...or two...for clothes to line dry or the added damage of hand-wringing clothes just isn't all that appealing.  The spin dryers were reported to extract enough water out of washed clothes that they would finish drying in just a couple hours...even in humid environments.


So when we were at Camping World looking at a folding bike the other day and stumbled upon a portable washer that included the spin dry function all in a single chamber unit, we decided that for $100 it would be a great solution for a boat.  Needless to say we picked one up and brought it home to give it a try.  I had actually seen these units when I wrote the earlier post, but they were always 220 volt models, so was I happy to see one setup for U.S. 110 volts.

The Base Camp Portable Washing Machine is supposed to be a counter top unit...but it is pretty tall for the average counter at almost 22 inches, the top is about shoulder height when sitting on the galley counter.  Its width and depth are both around 14.5" so it will sit on the counter.  This is a good thing since the drain is gravity fed through a hose on the bottom of the unit. Its wash function uses most of that space, while the spin dryer utilizes a smaller basket that snaps onto the agitator at the bottom of the tub...reducing the drying capacity to half the wash capacity.

Washing machine with spin dry basket installed

We did two loads of laundry with it as a test.  The first load consisted of one pair of shorts and 5 tee shirts.  The second was about 6 pairs of socks and about the same number of panties.  Instead of hooking up the water inlet hose (just a simple tube you can hook up to your sink faucet), we just poured water in with a pitcher or bucket. You regulate the water temperature yourself, so you get whatever you put into it.  To start each load we put in about an inch of water in the bottom, then added less than 1/4 the amount of detergent recommended for the typical washing machine "small load".  We then added clothes until they were just a bit under the max fill line, and topped off with water until the max fill line was reached.

We turned the switch to wash and set the timer for about 3~4 minutes.  The machine seems to agitate the clothes fairly well, although the action can sometimes ball them up in a bit of a knot.  After the first wash cycle completed, we let the clothes soak for another 3~4 minutes and then repeated the procedure 2 more times.  The result was about 9 minutes of active washing and 6 minutes of soaking in between.


After washing, we unhooked the drain hose and dropped it into the galley sink to drain.  This, of course, leaves some pretty wet clothes in the bottom of the washer.  So, I picked them up and squeezed a bit of the excess water out before starting the rinse cycle.  Rinsing consists of adding fresh water to the machine and running it in wash mode again.  And once the rinse cycle was complete, we again drained the water.

Now it was time for the spin dry cycle.  This required I remove all the clothes from the washer, so I squeezed a bit more water out of them and placed them in a bucket.  I then installed the spin dry basket and carefully placed a couple items in the basket, along with the cover.  You are only supposed to run the spin cycle for at most 3 minutes, so that is what I did.  I turned on the machine and quickly realized I didn't yet have the knack for loading the basket, as it shook quite a bit while attempting to spin.  I stopped the machine and repositioned the clothes in the basket, removing one of the items.  This time it seemed happier and only wobbled a little bit.


I could see water being slung out of the basket and against the clear blue walls of the wash tub, so it was working.  But, it didn't seem to be spinning all that fast.  I know some of the spin dryers spin at rates up to 3200 RPM, but this one didn't seem to go near that fast.  The unit doesn't document the speed and so I tried to determine the speed, but didn't have much luck either counting or using a sound based application for my smartphone.  Best I can guess, I think it was spinning somewhere between 500 and 700 RPM.  In any case, the result was that the clothes were less wet, but not nearly as dry as I had hoped.  In fact, we could hand wring additional water out of the clothes and it took almost a full 24 hours for the clothes that were washed to dry (after hand wringing them).

One other test I ran was to see if the unit would function when using my inverter (I have an older Xantrex and it is modified sine wave).  When running on the inverter, I noticed the motor would buzz a bit more, but it did work. I also noticed that the spin function is supposed to be limited (by you) to 3 minutes and after the 3 minutes the area around the motor was a little warm.  There was also the smell of plastic...but I assume that was just the result of the machine being new (since it smelled that way out of the box) and not anything related to the motor overheating.

Overall the washer seemed to do a fair job of washing the clothes we tried. Both wash and spin modes were pretty quiet as you can tell from the video, with the biggest noise problem stemming from the balance (or lack thereof) of the clothes in the spin basket. Unfortunately, the spin drying function, the most important function in our opinion, was a disappointment and left the clothes too wet.  We didn't feel this unit provided enough of an advantage over a bucket, plunger, and hand-wringing to justify its place on the boat, and so we decided to return the unit and continue the search.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

House Calls for the Pups

People from my generation have probably heard the term "house call" but have never actually seen or had one.  It is a throwback to a time when we all weren't in such a big hurry and and there was a nod to the fact that customer service could be good for the bottom line.  I don't think I ever actually had a doctor come visit me at home, and I doubt a generation or two younger than I (at least here in the U.S.) even believe that there was a time when a doctor ever would come to your home.

Well, that may not exist for our medical industry, but today my dogs got to experience a house call.  My friend and former boat broker Pete (who, by the way, I'd still recommend highly and I think may be the hardest working man in the boating industry) told us of a veterinarian in St. Augustine that does most (all?) of his work as house calls.  While we currently have a car and can easily take our furry kids anywhere, there will be a time when that is not the case.  Knowing that we can have a vet come to us is a great thing.

Reason for the vet visit was two fold.  First, we wanted to make sure we had the dogs on the right preventative medications.  In Colorado we have ticks and mosquitoes that can carry a few diseases, but things like fleas aren't a problem.  In more humid environments where it just doesn't go below freezing that often (that is one of the reasons we wanted to do this after all), we could imagine that there are all sorts of new maladies that could befall our unsuspecting furry crew members. The second reason is that our older dog seemed a bit stressed during the trip and we wanted to make sure everything was OK since she has had some ongoing medical issues.

The vet arrived on time for our 1 pm appointment (Ok, he was a few minutes late, but I attribute that to the over zealous new security guards they've hired here at the resort).  He came right out to the boat and we talked for a bit about the dogs history while sitting in the cockpit.  Then he gave each dog a physical and we talked more about nutrition, preventative medications for the areas where we wanted to travel, dealing with high heat, protecting doggy eyes from the sun, and other issues.  All in all I think the vet spent over two hours with us...I think the longest vet consultation we've ever had and we've gone to some very good vets in the past.

The vet seemed very knowledgeable about a variety of general veterinary topics and gave us a lot of good information to keep our kids healthy.  He was also able to prescribe the needed medications and supply them right from his mobile "office".  As he even noted, we "are pretty savvy pet owners" so I think we are pretty good at telling when we've found a top notch vet...and I think we have.

Cost wise, especially for a house call and the amount of time he spent with us, we thought it was very reasonable.  There was a $55 (U.S.) "office visit" charge, the physicals were about $50 each, and the medications were inline with prices we found on the internet for the same medications. This is only a few dollars more than the vets back home would charge when we took them into the office for what was often a very brief encounter with the actual vet.

So, if you have pets in need of a veterinarian and happen to be somewhere in the St. Augustine FL. area, you might want to give Vilano Mobile Vet a try.  Oh, and our dogs...they are doing just fine.  I think they are enjoying the fact we are around more and will take them to fun places like the beach...which the doctor recommended we do often (so I think Madison and Tucker recommend the vet too).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Two is Better Than One

While living the bachelor lifestyle for the most part the past year had a couple perks, it is definitely nice having my wife (and the dogs) on board.  Sure, there was no consensus to be had when deciding what to do for dinner, but sharing this lifestyle definitely makes it better.

Right now one big benefit is having a helping hand with all the projects that have been on hold since I couldn't complete them by myself.  Today the big task was making one of the large storage areas a dry storage area.  The Leopard 38 has a big storage area at the front of each hull, above the watertight buoyancy compartment.  And with no openings to weather, it should make a large and dry storage area.

Of course, on my boat, it hasn't been all that dry.  A pulpit rail mount and the pulpit seat mount have both been leaking a bit.  The result is some water made its way into this compartment, and that doesn't make for a nice storage location.  And the reason I haven't fixed it yet...you may have guessed...is because I need two people.  Both of these mounts go entirely through the hull (thus the ability to leak) and so I needed someone in the compartment to turn a wrench on the nut while someone else was outside keeping the bolt from turning.  Since I don't have an arm that is 20+ foot long with several elbows, it is not something I could do myself.  So, like so much of the hardware on this boat, a helper is needed to loosen and tighten the bolts.

With a helper, it was a simple task to remove the bolts, clean the mounting surfaces, apply some butyl tape (an excellent option for re-bedding through-bolted hardware), and re-mount the hardware. Given my previous experience with the tape, I have confidence that these two leak locations are now resolved and shouldn't give me trouble for a long time.  Unless I missed a leak, I think we now have one more large storage area at our disposal...which will come in handy right now.  Now we just need to repeat the process in the other hold.

In other news, if you find yourself moving on a boat and another boater is moving off, hopefully you have made friends with them.  In my case, my friends Gary and Joan have not only beefed up our provisions but also had these mini milk crates that may help me get my refrigerator organized (the details of organizing a top-loading refrigerator are deserving of its own post).  Thanks guys and good luck with your future endeavors!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Organization-less

We've been back at the boat about a week now.  Found a couple systems that will need repair before we leave, but the biggest problem we seem to be having at the moment is getting the boat organized. For some reason we are really struggling with getting things in reasonable places.

We've been slowly getting stuff moved from the Prius to the boat, but after a week the Prius still isn't empty.  It is getting there, but a few items just haven't found their way on board.  And the settee table and surrounding area still has stuff piled on it that has yet to find a home on the boat.

It seems most of the last couple days have been running to the local Dollar Tree and Target looking for storage containers that will fit in the various holds on the boat as well as fit the things we need to store in them.  I hate having all these plastic boxes...but without them, the larger holds in the boat would undoubtedly resemble one of those toddler play ball pits, only with all our stuff piled in it.


The only thing I think we are doing right at the moment is inventorying everything as we store it.  I have a giant provisioning spreadsheet that will not only track what food is aboard, but also all the other items too.  In addition to recording what is on board, it also tells me where on board it is.  It tracks the quantity of any given item based on the amount stored in each of 24 different storage locations on the boat.  Hopefully this will at least help me remember what I have on board and, as importantly, where it is on board...and save me hours of digging through holds looking for something "I just know we have somewhere".

Now if all this stuff would go find it's own home and just let me know...I'd be set.  Guess we had better get this done soon, as we are running out of time before we need to head north for the dreaded "H" season...and I do have a few items to attend to before we cast off.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Re-Organizing

The first couple days back at the boat and we hadn't even unpacked the car yet.  The Prius was still stuffed to the brim with everything we brought across the country.  At first it was understandable as we had to clean the boat, and bringing a bunch of stuff onto the boat before we got rid of the mold and mildew that accumulated after the dehumidifier malfunctioned during the rainy season was not a good idea.

Yesterday we finally got around to unpacking...and that lasted about two boxes worth.  We found places to stow some of the stuff and then realized we needed more containers.  You see we have two big storage holds under the forward berths, but they are loaded from the top only.  Piling stuff in there would result in a big pit of disorganized supplies, so containers for organization seemed in order.

Now we could have gone to Target and bought some containers.  Since it was the first sunny day since we arrived I also could have given the boat a much needed bath.  So, what did we decide to do...go to the beach with the dogs of course.


We had a nice walk along the beach.  Our older dog...who has been having some health issues lately...even seemed happy and for the first time in a long while played with her younger brother in the surf.  We definitely made the right decision...the washing and unpacking could wait another day. And apparently there is some truth that old saying that "The cure for anything is salt water"...at least for a while.

The following day it was again warm and sunny and we finally did get around to washing the boat and getting those containers.  Actually...warm is an understatement...it was hot and the high was 91 degrees Fahrenheit today (I heard it snowed back home a day or two ago...what a difference).  There were some rain storms in the evening, but it cleared up just in time for a nice sunset.


So, we are slowly settling in here at the boat.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

On To The Boat

Waking up in Mobile, we were greeted with another overcast day.  But, since it wasn't raining...yet...we decided to make a quick detour to the gulf coast. We drove down to Dauphin Island to see the ocean...and to give our youngest dog, Tucker, his first taste of it.


He was a little unsure of the water and waves but seemed to be having fun overall.  We had a nice walk along the beach, then it was time to get back on the road.

The weather deteriorated throughout the day with more cloudiness and rain...just not the weather to do much sightseeing.  Since the weather was forecast to last several days, we made the decision to just make a run for the boat.  The hotel stays were getting expensive and annoying anyway, and I think the dog's "big car ride" was getting to be more car ride than even Madison liked (and she loves car rides).

We made it to Tallahassee, Florida, that evening.  We could have pushed and made it all the way to the boat by late that day...but I didn't want to arrive at the boat late in the evening and then have to clean it up and prep it for a stay that same night.  We stopped at a Sonny's BBQ for dinner and were surprised by the crowd that was still there at almost 9pm...until we found out that they were doing a tax day special.  I completely forgot it was tax day, and they were having a 2-for-1 rib special that was a nice treat after a long day on the road.

The next day we departed Tallahassee for the last leg of the drive.  It was mostly an uneventful trip, covering much of the same part of I-10 that I took the first time I made this drive.  The only thing of note is that I came up with a new axiom for driving across the U.S.  If you see a pickup truck with Texas plates and it is not in Texas, there is a 1 in 3 chance the driver is a jerk.  I don't know how many times I saw trucks weaving in and out of traffic, cutting people off (including semi trucks), and generally just being discourteous drivers, but in almost every case it was sporting a Texas license plate.

A Jerk that almost took my bumper off .
The truck pictured above apparently felt he was more important than the other cars trying to pass a semi and so he sped up in the right lane and then cut me off.  Guess he just couldn't wait the additional 3 seconds to be two cars behind me...where he would have been if he were courteous.

We made it to the boat around 3pm on Thursday.  I would have made this post then, but unfortunately when we arrived at the boat we found the dehumidifier had malfunctioned at some point.  Don't know how it came to the decision that the "tank was full" when the tank was bypassed with the hose that led directly to the sink drain...but it apparently shut itself off at some point.  The result was that the boat was a bit stale and musty smelling with a little mold starting to appear in spots on the walls.

So, the last couple days we've been on mold patrol.  Cleaning and re-running some laundry and generally drying out the interior of the boat. We also spent some time getting the systems back in operating order. It's good now, and the sun is even coming out for the first time since we arrived so it may be time to wash the outside of the boat...after a visit to the beach.


Unlike my first marathon trip that took just over 3 days, this one took 6 days and just over 2100 miles.  It was a much more pleasant trip than the first one. Too bad we had to skip a few of the things we wanted to see along the way...but with the boat we should be able to check them out at some point if we want to. And the house is under contract too.  Things are finally coming together.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cell Service: My First Month With A Low Cost Carrier

In recent posts I described my goals for finding a new cell phone service and took a look at a few interesting providers.  The service provider I decided to try was Ting.  They have had some favorable reviews, the rates for our estimated usage should be under half of what we are currently paying, and supporting both CDMA and GSM networks (on separate handsets) we should theoretically have increased coverage by having a handset that works on each network.

ting

Before the final decision, I contacted Ting once by phone and once using their online chat help system.  I wanted to see if being a discount provider meant there would be very limited support.  While they didn't quite meet their goal of "always have a real person to answer the phone and never put you on hold", their response times were no worse than I've experienced from Verizon or T-Mobile.  I guess that Sprint changed some policies regarding activation of handsets that has driven up recent support call volume (at least that is the excuse they are providing for "breaking their no hold promise"), so their response times might improve.  But they seemed good enough to give a try.

I've heard stories about varying ease or difficulty when porting over an existing cell phone number to a new service.  It is typically supposed to happen within 24 hours (longer if the phone number was a land line number).  In our case we were porting over two numbers from T-Mobile to Ting, one was being switched to a CDMA device while the other would be assigned to a new SIM card for an existing GSM device.  After the new device and SIM card arrived in the mail, we initiated the port.  Requesting the port was a pretty easy process of just filling out a form on the Ting web site.  The hardest part was that I needed to call T-Mobile to get a pin number to allow the port and, naturally, T-Mobile wanted to try to keep me as a customer (although to their credit, they didn't push nearly as hard as Dish Network did).

The port of the GSM phone number to the new SIM card went off without a hitch.  We initiated the port about 8pm one evening, and by the next morning my wife's phone was up and running with the new SIM card installed.  The port of my number from my old GSM device to the new Ting CDMA device didn't go as well.  That next morning my port was still showing as "pending" on the Ting site.  And that didn't change by the afternoon.  Finally, as we were reaching the 24 hour point, I gave Ting a call.  They informed me that there was a "glitch" in the porting system the night we submitted the requests and some of them didn't go through.  The tech support person then cancelled and re-initiated the port request.  Sometime around midnight I received the email that the port was successful.  When I tried activating my phone the following morning, it still wouldn't complete the activation.

This may have been my fault though.  You see, while I was waiting for the initial activation, I decided I would go ahead and configure the phone the way I wanted it.  I ignored the messages about the phone failing to register with the network, and connected the device to my WiFi.  I then downloaded the apps I wanted installed, changed the ring tone and wallpaper, etc.  In order to get the phone to complete the activation, I had to do a factory reset of the phone.  I lost all of the configuration that I had done, but the device completed activation just fine after that.  Unfortunately, the phone also started updating all of it's pre-installed software (the Google browser, mail, and other OS bits) before I could get it attached back to my WiFi...and ran up my data usage 14MB.  Oh well, at least it was connected.

Performance of the phones so far seems fine.  My wife's phone is the GSM phone and, since Ting's GSM service uses T-Mobile, I didn't expect there would be any change.  My wife reports that service might be just slightly improved, with her phone no longer dropping calls at one point in her commute that usually had that problem...but I'm betting it has as much to do with atmospheric conditions so I think I'll call performance "the same".  Since I was working at the house, I didn't have as much experience with the Sprint service.  The phone only reports one bar out of five in the house, but the phone still seems to be able to make and receive calls just fine.  On this trip to the east coast, I haven't found any areas where I didn't have voice coverage (I am using very little data, but LTE was there when I tried using it) although again I rarely see full bars on the signal strength meter.  Sound quality isn't the best on the new phone (it is a bit tinny sounding), but that is caused by the handset and not the service (and was one thing the reviews noted about this phone...but being water-resistant I went with it anyway).

Since we are now on a plan that charges based on usage, we've been kind of playing a game similar to when we bought the Prius.  Instead of seeing who could get the best gas mileage, it is now a game to see how low we can keep our first months bill while still using our devices.  I've found a number of tips that can cut down data usage on an Android device (shutting down or reducing update frequencies on all those programs that like to notify you of things...like the current weather, who just posted on Facebook, etc.).  I even installed a toolbar that will let me shut down the cell data connection (LTE) so the things that can't be easily configured to stop polling the internet would be denied access when the phone is not in use. For our trip, I installed a turn by turn navigation program called Navmii that allows you to download maps and navigation data and then use those items when you are without a data connection (or in my case, download them on WiFi and then turn off the data connection so we aren't constantly pulling map data on the cell data network).

I've been watching our various usages over the course of the month.  Most everything came in at or below where we expected it would (based on previous usage).  I did note a strange billing item on my wife's phone where it was showing calls forwarded from her number to voicemail.  I called Ting to inquire, and the support person claimed that they charge for calls to voicemail.  This seemed bizarre to me, but since it was only happening on my wife's line and not on mine, I did a bit more digging.  The Ting web site says "Calls that you don't answer, including ones that go to voicemail, are not considered billable airtime".  Technically their GSM support is still in Beta, so I guess I may have found a bug...and I think this tech support guy just wanted me off the phone. When I contacted them again, they clarified with me that they don't charge for calls to voicemail and this was indeed a glitch in their system that they are working on correcting and I should see it corrected before I am billed.

At the end of the month, here is how it compared.  On T-Mobile our bill was running just over $114 per month ($100 per month plus taxes and fees).  This month with Ting, we had the two lines of service ($12) and fell into the Medium minutes bucket ($9), Small text messages bucket ($3), and Small data bucket ($3). That is only $27 for the base charge for BOTH phones this month.  Including taxes, the total came to $31.97.  So, this first month, we saved $82.03 and I'm very happy with that.

To be fair, we did try to cut our usage some.  So, if we took our usage from our last T-Mobile bill, we would have been in the Large Minutes bucket ($18), Small text message bucket ($3), and Medium data bucket ($12) and that comes to $45 per month for both phones (I'm guessing that will be around $50 after taxes).  Still less than half what we were paying.

So, looking back at my original criteria...

  • They have to be reasonably priced.  My T-Mobile bill was $114/month for two phones ($100 + taxes, fees, pain and suffering) and it had to be at or below that.
$27, or even $45 is far better than $100, so we nailed that one.
  • They have to have decent coverage in the U.S.  T-Mobile wasn't that bad, except in Deltaville, but I did want better if I could get it.
One phone is on T-Mobile's network and the other one is on Sprint with voice roaming to Verizon, so this should be better as well...but we won't know for sure until we are back in the Chesapeake.  A tentative Yes.
  • They have to support GSM phones (since CDMA is only used in the US and I think Japan and I would like the option to use any phone I buy elsewhere).
My wife's unlocked GSM phone was ported over.  That's a check.
  • They need to have the ability to suspend service without disconnecting the number for times I am out of the country and don't want to use that service.
You don't actually have to suspend anything since you are charged by the bucket.  If you use no minutes, texts, or data in a month, all you have is the base $6 line charge and people can still leave you messages.  That should work nicely as an automatic suspension when we are out of cell phone range for a while.

There have been a couple glitches, but overall I'm happy with the service.  If you want to give them a try, I can even help you out a bit.  If you use the following link, you should get a $25 credit with them as well.

$25 credit towards new Ting cell phone service

Disclaimer: The link above will not only give you the $25 credit, but it gives me a credit too.  This doesn't change my opinion of the company, but I thought you should know.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

And The Rains Came

Before we left Austin on Monday, my wife wanted to see the state capitol building. I guess after spending so much of her career in the one in Colorado (no she is not a politician), she likes to compare them. So I walked the dogs around the grounds while she went and took a peek inside.


We also met another friend of mine for lunch before heading on. I met Jean when the company I was working for at the time hired her company for an online billing system solution. In a similar fashion to some of the people I've met through my blog, we became friends using electronic communications long before we ever actually met. Since I didn't know what route we were taking for sure until Saturday morning and since I only had her work skype contact, I wasn't able to get in touch with her until Monday morning when we were in Austin, but we still managed to meet for lunch...how cool is that. We had a nice chat before heading on down the road.

The drive through Texas was quite green and pretty...sorry I keep saying that...but it is very different from all my memories of Texas road trips. Maybe it was due to the fact all the family trips were either middle of the summer or during the Christmas school break, but most of my memories are of a much more bleak landscape.


We made it to Iowa, Louisiana (no, that's not two states but a town in Louisiana just east of Lake Charles), where we spent the night.  Not much to be said about the place except it had a LA Quinta (important since it is a hotel chain that has WiFi, allows dogs, and seems to have a reasonable standard of cleanliness). We spent most of the evening pouring over the flood of 14 offers we received on the house in the 4 days it has been on the market. That is a lot of legal mumbo jumbo to read through...but I'm not complaining...I know we are very fortunate the market is so hot in Colorado right now.


The next morning we awoke to the rain the weather men have been threatening would happen all week.  In fact, they had some poor slob out reporting about flooding in New Orleans when we flipped over to The Weather Channel (why do they always send someone out to a place to tell us not to go there?). Guess where we had hoped to visit today. Oh well, guess we can check it out by boat sometime...probably a better option anyway.


The rains sound like they will be sticking around all week, so we are debating if we should just drive on to the boat. That is what we are doing as I type this...heading down I-10 in the rain, making our way to our next hotel stop near Mobile, Alabama.  There we will be digitally signing paperwork so the house will be under contract and rejecting the 13 other offers.

Wife just made the comment that she bets California would like to have some of this rain. I know Texas is glad to have it and I agree there will probably be a lot of thirsty Californians that wish they had it too.

So, past rains made for a pretty drive through Texas. Then it rained legal paperwork on us. And now we have some actual rain to deal with. Guess the weather men were right after all...depending on your perspective.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cell Service: Some Interesting Options

In my first installment on this subject, I went through some of the things I am looking for in a replacement cell phone service.  I also noted a few technology issues and limitations that may be particularly interesting to cruisers (or anyone that wants to use their handset world-wide).  This time I want to take a brief look at some of the different low-cost carriers out there.

As you saw from the list of virtual operators that I linked to in the last post, there are a lot of them out there. Some of the more interesting ones have come up with some potentially fascinating concepts meant to reduce your monthly cost of of having a cell phone. Many of them start off by not subsidizing phone purchases. That means, if you need a new device, you will have to pay for the entire thing up front instead of getting "a really good price" in exchange for signing up for a long contract. Fortunately, some of them also allow you to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) if you have one that will work on their network, buy a used device that will work, and have some more economical new handsets.  Here are a few of the more interesting carriers I found that you may have never heard of.

Red Pocket

This seemed to be one of the more traditional sounding carriers.  They have a number of unlimited talk and text plans and the price seemed to vary based on how much high-speed internet you wanted to include.  The interesting thing about this provider is that they offer service on all 4 of the major carriers.  If you have an existing phone you would like to continue using, there is a fair chance they will be able to support it (please check with them before signing up if you are interested).  I didn't find their pricing to be overly compelling compared to my existing T-Mobile bill, but if you are on Verizon or AT&T you might find a plan with them that could save you a fair chunk of change each month.  They appear to be able to offer a bit better pricing because they act similar to a pre-paid service where you have to fill up and top off your account periodically instead of the tranditional monthly billing process.

Republic Wireless

An interesting low cost carrier with plans ranging from only $5 to $40 per month, the price points are definitely nice.  The theory behind Republic wireless is that WiFi is so ubiquitous in our lives these days, that there isn't likely to be much time where you are not connected to one.  Their service attempts to use WiFi whenever possible (even for voice calls) and only uses cell-based services when the WiFi is not available. Actually, their $5 plan is WiFi only, so the phone will only work when it is connected to WiFi.  The $10 plan offers voice only, with data support still coming from WiFi.  Their other two plans do offer mobile internet connectivity, with the price differentiator being how fast of data access you want.  All of their plans appear to be "unlimited everything" except for the restrictions on connectivity/speed noted above.

Since Republic tries to route your calls over WiFi when available, their phones have special software to switch between WiFi and cellular networks.  This means you cannot bring your own handset and they only offer a limited number of handsets on their service.  Their service is through Sprint (CDMA), but they can roam to Verizon so coverage is good within the U.S.  One user I know did note that the unlimited plans are not so unlimited if you are roaming onto Verizon's network a lot.

Ting

This company has decided to turn the usual cell phone plan on it's ear.  They have no "Unlimited" plans at all.  In fact, they really don't have any "plans" at all.  Instead, they divide service into various levels, or buckets if you will, and then charge you based on what bucket you land in at the end of each month.  Each service type is divided into these buckets: phone minutes, text/SMS messages, and data.  So, if you use very few minutes but a lot of data, then you get charged just a couple bucks for your minutes and a bit more for your data usage.  Their claim is that by doing it this way, most people save money versus those unlimited plans.

Traditionally, Ting has used the Sprint CDMA network for their service, but recently started rolling out a T-Mobile based GSM offering that is currently in a public beta program. The biggest downside to their approach seems to be that your bill may vary month-to-month so it may be hard to budget accurately for their service.  The other catch with this service is they require you to have a credit card on file.  Since, unlike most carriers, they bill you at the end of the service period (otherwise how could they know how much to bill you) this made sense to me.  Still not sure I like companies automatically billing my credit card, but at least there reason is a bit more valid than most.


I did choose one of these as our provider and have just completed my first month with them.  I will tell you about my experience in an upcoming post.  And if you are interested in giving the one I'm using a try, I may be able to save you a few dollars your first month with them too.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Friends and Family

After getting to the big town of Snyder Texas at midnight, we got a bit of a late start.  We opted for the "free" hotel breakfast and spent most of the morning visiting with my aunt.  We went to the local park and took the dogs for a nice walk, and I think they appreciated getting out and stretching their legs more than just the rest stop breaks we had the previous day.

The trip Sunday was much shorter, only about 6 hours, to Austin, Texas.  A good friend and former coworker lives there and I wanted to say hi.  My wife also has a fascination with state capitols so I thought she would like to check it out.

The drive was nice.  For a state that has historically been big into oil for as long as I can remember (my dad used to tell stories about working for oil companies), they sure seem to have embraced alternative energy...at least wind generation.

Field of...windmills

I guess central Texas has been getting some much needed rain, and it was actually green and quite pretty.  Very different from the trips I remember as a child...or the one through the panhandle yesterday.

Roadside wildflowers south of Abilene...I think it was.

We got to Austin and checked into the hotel around 6pm...after making a bit of a detour.  The highway system around the hotel is undergoing some construction and is quite confusing.  The turn by turn guidance program we are using (Navmii...which allows you to download maps for offline use so you aren't using so much cellular data...more on this in upcoming posts) didn't have the correct exit number and we ended up getting a scenic tour of the hotel area.

Traveling with the dogs has made finding hotels a bit more tricky.  I had heard that more and more are allowing people to bring their pets, but it isn't universal yet.  So, finding reasonably priced and clean hotels that have free internet and accept dogs has been a bit tricky but we are doing OK so far.  Some hotels, such as the Baymont in Snyder charge an extra $20 per dog while the LaQuinta we are in today lets them stay for free.

Traveling can be tiring

It was nice to see my friend John again and finally meet his family.  They treated us to some Texas BBQ (having family from the area, I love good Texas BBQ) and good conversation.  I know we were a bit tired from all the travel, but hope we were good enough company. Thanks for your hospitality John and Michelle, we will definitely need to return the favor on our boat sometime.

On tap for today we will go visit the capitol, make our way east...somewhere, and meet with our real estate agents who reportedly have some good news for us.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Our Way

Once we managed to get the house cleaned up and on the market, it was finally time to pack up the car and head out to our new life.  Of course that sounds easy until you try to condense all of your possessions and necessities into a Prius...the very same Prius that is supposed to carry two people and two medium-sized dogs. Well, thanks to the skills gained when I worked at UPS, we got most of the stuff into the Prius.

Practice for stowing things on the boat.

After a farewell dinner with family and one last load of laundry, we departed Denver Saturday morning. The original goal of the first leg was to head south to see my aunt in Texas. Of course, weather in Texas and the I-10 corridor had us second guessing that decision...but after realizing that similar weather was also predicted for the middle of the country, we decided to press on.  We left Denver around 11 AM, a bit behind where we probably should have as that will put us at our destination quite late. We made the very familiar trip south along the front range past Colorado Springs and on through Trinidad (at one time we considered buying property in southern Colorado and made several trips there).

The Air Force Academy grounds near Co. Springs.

We crossed the border into New Mexico and turned east out of Raton and headed toward Amarillo, Texas. Just outside of Clayton, New Mexico, we ran into the only bit of bad weather on the trip...if you can call it that. There were a couple rain showers that came with a lot of wind. The wind caused a bizarre migration of tumbleweeds like I had never seen before. It was like they were being herded across the highway in lined up groupings as if they were part of some tumbleweed ranch herd.



We passed through Amarillo just about dusk and didn't arrive in Snyder, Texas, until just around midnight. I had always told my wife that making this exact trip a number of times as a child was one of my justifications for getting my pilots license...and now she understands.  Most of the dry, flat, beige New Mexico and Texas panhandle are better when viewed from 9000 ft and 150 mph.

Sunset with no Mountains...not in CO anymore.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cell Service: Time for a Change

A few times I've mentioned on the blog that I've been considering a new cell phone service.  You might have read when I was up in the Chesapeake I found that T-Mobile didn't have the best coverage (Ok, I only had coverage if I was standing literally on the north shoreline of the peninsula). Then, when my phone started acting up just as I returned to Denver, I decided that it was time to pull the trigger and make the switch.  But this decision isn't an easy one due to the different and competing technologies out there. So, the next several posts on the subject may get a little technical, but will hopefully give you an interesting insight into the world of cell phones and providers (as best I understand them anyway).

Most people reading this are probably at least somewhat familiar with the four big cell phone providers in the U.S.  There's Verizon, which seems to have the best overall coverage (in the U.S.)...and a price tag that says they know it.  Then AT&T is the other Goliath name in the market.  Behind those two stand Sprint and T-Mobile to round out the group.  These are the ones that own (or at least contract with a maintenance company that owns) all the cell phone towers in the U.S., and if you are making a cell phone call in America, you are likely using one of these towers to do it.


But, those aren't the only cell phone companies.  You might have heard of (or even use) Boost, Consumer Cellular, Cricket, Straight Talk, or Virgin Mobile. Then there are a bunch of other even lesser known brands as well.  All of these companies are what are called Mobile Virtual Network Operators (or MVNO's) and they basically "rent time" on the major cell providers networks and towers. For example the MVNO Boost uses Sprint, Cricket uses AT&T, and Straight Talk is talking straight through T-Mobile.  If you want to see all the different MVNO's out there and what networks they use, this link should take you to a pretty good list on Wikipedia.

So, there are a ton of cell phone companies out there, how do you narrow them down?  Well, in my case I had some very specific criteria as a cruiser:

  • They have to be reasonably priced.  My T-Mobile bill was $114/month for two phones ($100 + taxes, fees, pain and suffering) and it had to be at or below that.
  • They have to have decent coverage in the U.S.  T-Mobile wasn't that bad (except in Deltaville) but I did want better if I could get it.
  • They have to support GSM phones (since CDMA is only used in the US and, I think, Japan and I would like the option to use any phone I buy elsewhere...like, you know, the Bahamas, BVI, etc.).
  • They need to have the ability to suspend service without disconnecting the number, for times I am out of the country and don't want to use that service. 

I guess there is one more "feature" I need to talk about.  The GSM phone needs to be unlocked.  Many cell phone companies lock the phone you get to their service.  This is done since they subsidize the cost of the phone and lock you into a contract to help offset the cost.  By doing this, you can't get that top of the line phone for $25 and then switch to another service the next week.  Recent laws and rules in the US now require the carriers to unlock the phones once you have fulfilled your obligation with them (typically a year or less).  The trick here is that you have to request it...so if you are planning to go outside the U.S. with your GSM cell phone, make sure you request the unlock before you leave.  

The reason you want to unlock the phone is simple.  In many places you go you can buy a pre-paid SIM card on the local wireless network and use it to make calls. This is often much cheaper than if you use your U.S. plan's international roaming rates.  With an unlocked phone, you can swap these SIM cards with your existing one and effectively swap your service without having to buy another handset.

There is one more problem with using one phone in multiple locales, though.  While unlocking a phone will allow you to use the phone on multiple "foreign" networks, some of the more advanced features may still not be available.  You see, even in the GSM and CDMA worlds, the carriers apparently have differences. Often the higher speed data access (those things labeled 3G, 4G, and LTE in all the marketing material) are done on different radio frequencies for different carriers in different countries.  Many of the phones don't have all the possible radios inside them to use all the different frequencies.  So, even with an unlocked phone, you may find your data connection is limited depending on the capabilities of your handset.  Best you can seem to do is to find a handset that uses at least some of the frequencies in the locations you intend to travel...and in the rest you may be limited to lower data speeds.

Well, that covers some of the things I'm looking for and some of the pitfalls that can be encountered.  Next time I'll take a look at some of the more interesting discount providers of cell phone service that I have found.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Take the Long Way Home

Inspired by my blogging friends at The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick and their scenic boat-shopping tour of the U.S., we decided we should take a bit more leisurely route back to the boat.  Ok, I also didn't want to do the 3+ day marathon driving trip again.  Of course, this time of year doesn't seem to be lending itself to a nice trip for anything north of the 36' 30° parallel, so I think we will be going south.


I've got some friends and family I would like to see in Texas, then I think we are going to meander somewhere roughly along the path of I-10.  Of course, at the moment I have no idea what we should check out along the way.  So, if you happen to know of any place along the way that we should check out, please let us know.  And where is that world's largest ball of yarn anyway? ;-)

So, we'll be taking the long way home...to the boat...


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Definitely Not Home Anymore

My wife and I, with my parent's help, have been putting in long hours the last several days trying to meet a deadline with our house.  The realtor was scheduled to come on Wednesday to take pictures for the MLS listing for our house so we could put it on the market today.

Proof it is for sale...the realty sign

If you have ever seen our house you know that, while we aren't dirty people, we don't keep the house spotless. There are just too many things to do in life to spend hours every day cleaning a home.  And since we owned a home that...in true American fashion...was way bigger than we needed, over 18 years we accumulated a lot of stuff to fill that space.  Not necessarily useful stuff and, if I had it all to do over again, I doubt I would have bought much of it...but we were busy being good American consumers. It has been quite an undertaking to move completely out, clean it all up, and get it ready to sell.  And we almost made it by the time the realtor arrived with his camera (the images here are mine, not the realtor).

Living room and hall

Family room

There are still a couple small piles of stuff in the garage...mostly extra packing boxes and cleaners...but we should be done with it all today.  Then we need to re-pack and re-evaluate what has been earmarked for transport to the boat while we spend a day or so at my mother-in-law's place.  I think we may have just a bit more than will fit in the Prius, at least if we intend to fit ourselves in it as well.

Master bath

Master Bedroom

If you happen to know of someone who wants to move to the Denver metro area, we know of a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house they can buy and move in immediately.  It has a number of upgrades to make it more energy efficient, including being one of the few in our neighborhood to be built to the Ideal Energy Home standards of the day.  I know our utility bills are about half of some of our neighbors. If we had stayed, we probably would have added solar and tried to see how close to net zero we could get.  Unlike many of the houses of the period, the lower level of this house is all brick for lower maintenance. The neighborhood is desirable and is supposed to have good schools (our dogs didn't use them).  Since it is early spring, you can't tell from the pictures but the back yard is actually a nice retreat to hang out in during the summer.

Update:  It appeared in the MLS mid-morning yesterday.  You can see it here as long as the listing lasts.

The backyard retreat

So, wish us luck as we make the move to the boat...if the wheels don't fall off the Prius trying to get us and the stuff across the country.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Getting There

I think we are finally getting a handle on the house. It still amazes me how much stuff there is once all the big items are gone.  Thanks to Freecycle, the mattress, dinette chairs, and a number of other things (all were offered and taken by the nice couple that responded to the mattress ad) are gone. The pathfinder is also gone now, so we have more limited means of hauling than we did before.


Most of the rest of the stuff that is left has been boxed and moved to the garage.  There is a small pile of stuff to keep (either boat or storage), a larger pile of stuff to donate, another large pile to recycle, and a small pile of trash.  Oh, did I mention that today was trash day?  Our trash service comes with the cans and this was our last pick up. We had hoped they would not show up until the afternoon...so of course they were here by 9am.


After getting the house cleared, in came the steam cleaner.  Our real estate agent said our carpets were fine and replacement would likely be a waste of time as the new owners would probably want to replace them with their own choice anyway.  So, we rented a Rug Doctor and, after vacuuming, steam cleaned the carpets.  For as old as they are, the carpets still look fairly decent...a surprise for builders grade carpeting.

Speaking of surprises, one of the vacuums we borrowed (not the one pictured above) was sure one.  With all the advertising and the price tag of Dyson, I found that the one we tried using was terrible.  It was less effective than a refurbished Hoover WindTunnel vacuum we picked up at Big Lots for about 1/10 the price.  And all those claims about design innovations...well...I think my wife summed it up best: "This thing was obviously designed by someone that has never actually used a vacuum".  I could say that the Dyson sucked...but normally a vacuum should and it didn't seem to do that either.

As of this morning all of the rooms are empty except the kitchen.  And we need to get that cleared out and cleaned up quickly as the real estate agent is coming over to take pictures to create the listing. Everyone says it is a good time to be selling in the Denver market, so hopefully we will get it sold soon.  In any case, we should be heading for the boat in the next few days.  Yay!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Aaaaaagh.....

Sorry for going radio silent for a little while.  It has been quite hectic around here.  We had the nice going away party last Sunday and it was nice to see my old friends and make some new ones.  Of course, as dizzy as I've been recently, I totally forgot to take any pictures while I was there (doh!).  I do want to thank everyone who stopped by to wish us well.

Some "provisions" we were given during the party.

Since the party we've been running around like the proverbial headless chickens trying to get rid of stuff.  It still amazes me how much cruft we have to deal with.  The only furniture we have left is our mattress lying on the floor in our bedroom, one table, and a couple dilapidated dinette chairs.  It kind of reminds me how we first started living out of college...not a lot of furniture.  The difference is all the small stuff though...man you can accumulate a lot in 18 years.

Many trips to every imaginable donation place (Goodwill, ARC, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). A trip down to the metal recycling center with old computer carcasses (steel cases, motherboards, hard drives...all separated of course), fence stakes, buckets of hardware, and other metallic things we couldn't find a home for or reason to keep (it is amazing what they will recycle..and depending on what you have there is some money in it..between our two trips we made $125).

Boxing up the things we want to store like picture albums, heirlooms, paperwork.  Decided to buy a small fire safe to store some paperwork in lieu of paying for a safe deposit box for some necessary (but not exactly valuable) paperwork.  Then stashing these boxes with nearby relatives.

Spending some quality time on eBay and Craigslist trying to get a few more dollars for some of our better "stuff".  Our mountain bikes are now sold, so we will be looking for some possibly folding ones once we get to Florida.  Running to CarMax and EchoPark to get appraisals on our old Pathfinder (which should disappear later today...after we cart the table my computer is currently sitting on to Goodwill).

The almost gone Pathfinder...and house...I hope.

And yesterday we met with the real estate agent.  The sign is hiding in the garage, and we are prepared to list the house.  That should happen early next week.

The sign waiting in the garage.

The goal was to be cleared out by last Tuesday...but this isn't any different than any other plan made by a cruiser...a wave comes along and wipes away any trace of that plan scribbled in the sand.  Now I guess we will see if we are on the road by Easter.  Keeping my fingers crossed.