Karen and Jeffrey Siegel

Maybe You Don’t Need 3G on Your iPad 2?

iPad 2 3G Version -- Photo: Verizon Wireless

iPad 2 3G Version -- Photo: Verizon Wireless

Brian Chen, at Wired, has a piece today that suggests a clever way to avoid having to pay the extra money for a 3G version of the iPad 2 just to get GPS and phone data network capability.  The solution basically involves using your current Smartphone as a wireless hotspot. 

Here’s an excerpt of his piece:

GPS transplant

The Wi-Fi iPad doesn’t have built-in GPS, but if you want to use that beautiful Maps app for navigation, you still don’t need a 3G iPad, so long as you have an iPhone. It turns out that if you hotspot with an iPhone, the connection transfers the GPS to the iPad.

Just connect the iPad to the iPhone’s hotspot, then launch the Maps app, and you’ll see the blue dot tracking your location.

(We’re not sure if this works when hotspotting with an Android phone — if you can confirm, let us know in the comments.)

For the complete article, visit the Wired article here.

There are some questions still.  For example, if the GPS data is being imported by the tethered iPad, can it be used by other nav programs instead of the Maps app?  I’m betting so, but I need to hear from somebody with the gear who is willing to experiment with it.  My best sources for iPad info are Jeff Siegel at ActiveCaptain, Christine Kling at Write on the Water (an amazing writer/sailor/geek), and my friend Ben Ellison at Panbo.

Copyright © 2011 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Electronics, seamanship, Technology

Diesel Delivered to You at Anchor

Peterson Fuel Delivery Barge Brings Diesel -- Photo Jeffrey and Karen Siegel

Peterson Fuel Delivery Barge Brings Diesel -- Photo Jeffrey and Karen Siegel

Passing through Miami or Fort Lauderdale and need fuel? How about having it delivered to you at anchor by Peterson Fuel Delivery. They’ve been doing it for almost ten years but I didn’t know about it until Jeff and Karen Siegel took advantage of the service and wrote it up in their cruise blog, TakingPaws.

According to the Siegels, Peterson has high-speed pumps that are fully adjustable — a nice feature if you know your plumbing can’t handle more than 40 or 50 gallons per minute of fuel flow. I wish we had this kind of service in my cruising waters in the Northeast. I love having the Aldo’s Bakery visit my boat while I’m moored at Block Island, and having the pumpout boat come by my slip at the dock. Jeff and Karen agree that if we could just find a dog-walking service to come pick up the “kids,” there’d be no reason to leave the boat.

Do you know of other fuel delivery services? Let us know in the comments and make sure you log them into ActiveCaptain so everybody gets the gouge.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Destinations, Industry News, Maintenance & DIY, Passagemaking News, People, Powerboats, Sailboats

Great Technique for Dinghy Anchoring at the Beach

By Jeffrey Siegel (ActiveCaptain); Videography by Karen Siegel

Here’s a great technique for anchoring the dinghy off the beach. Our dinghy weighs about 800 pounds. She’s a rigid inflatable with a 40 HP engine. It’s our family car when we’re cruising and we put a lot of demands on her.

So I was telling Larry how much of a hassle it is when bringing the dogs to the beach. Beaching the boat ends up pushing the whole boat sideways on the beach with oncoming waves and can become very difficult to re-float it when it’s time to leave. Instead, we keep going back every 5 minutes to push the boat back into the water.

Larry had a solution. He always does. And this one is a doozy.

Editor’s Note — The Siegels are currently cruising the warm waters of the southeastern U.S. and Bahamas in aCappella, their DeFever 53RPH trawler, along with canine kids Dylan and Dyna. Jeff wrote this piece on a new dinghy anchoring technique for their travel blog, Taking Paws, and I asked if we could reprint it here.  You’ll want to practice this in relatively calm waters the first time you do it and you should have a pretty good idea of the bottom slope off the beach. With that info in hand, this looks like a terrific solution. Tell us what you think in the comments.

“You don’t know how to use the trip line on the anchor to remotely anchor the dinghy?” Larry asks. Well, no, I don’t. I’ve never seen anyone ever do it. With that Larry gives me the specs for what I need an explains exactly how to do LRA – Larry’s Remote Anchoring.

First, the equipment and deployment.

I use a grappling hook type of dinghy anchor. LRA is real anchoring so I created a special rode of 5 feet of chain with 8 feet of 3/8″ line. I attached a clip to the end of it so it could be attached to the bow eye of the dinghy close to the water.

The critical piece of equipment is 100 feet of 1/4 inch nylon line on a spool. That gets attached to the trip line eye at the bottom of the anchor.

With that all ready, this video shows the equipment and deployment at Sombrero Key.  We land in about 2 feet of water and push the boat out to anchor in 4 feet of water. Turn your sound up – it’s hard to hear – lots of dogs hanging around the “studio”.

The magic is in putting all of the equipment on the bow easily popped into the water by a slight tug of the trip line. The trip line is the retrieval device and an emergency line in case the anchor fails. It isn’t good enough to hold the dinghy in a gale, but for going to the beach, it’s plenty good enough.

Retrieving the anchor is just as easy.

It’s all pretty easy to do. I strongly suggest using chain on the anchor if you’re going to use this technique. Total cost for this was about $25 plus the anchor which we already had.

Now Larry, how about a trick for rinsing and drying off wet dogs before they get back onto the boat?

Story text and video Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey Siegel and Karen Siegel

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC. All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Destinations, Gear & Apparel, Passagemaking News, People, Powerboats, Sailboats, Sailing Gear & Apparel, seamanship

The Underway Engine Room Check: Why You Need It

I saw a great example recently of why you need to be diligent about the hourly (or whatever regular schedule you set) engine room check while cruising offshore.  As you know from some earlier posts, Jeffrey and Karen Siegel, owners of ActiveCaptain, aboard their DeFever 53 aCappella, are headed south for the winter and recently made an overnight passage off the North Carolina coast.  They’re experienced offshore cruisers and they keep to an hourly engine room check during the day when both are in the pilothouse, and on shift changes at night.

Well, Jeff noticed a tiny leak during one of his checks and monitored it diligently over the next couple of checks.  His ultimate discovery should put the fear of Poseidon in you.

Have a look at his video of the episode.


You can follow the Siegel’s trip aboard aCappellaat their blogsite TakingPaws.

Copyright © 2009 OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Boats, Passagemaking News, People

iPhone for the Boat? Jeffrey Siegel of ActiveCaptain Says “Yes”

Editor’s Note — I recently talked with Jeff Siegel about some of the issues related to mobile phone service for coastal cruisers.  Jeff and his wife and business partner Karen are the founders of ActiveCaptain, a website we think very highly of and have written about.  They are also the authors of an extensive series of articles on the use of mobile phones (cell phones) aboard boats.  Recently, during some downtime on their annual pilgrimmage southward aboard their DeFever 53RPH named aCappella, they updated this award-winning series with the latest information on equipment and service.  You should take a look at that series, which I consider the definitive “go-to” for cell phone info.  One of the major updates is a new endorsement of the Apple iPhone, which until now the Siegels had serious reservations about.  I asked Jeff whether the data rates for the iPhone and others were really good enough to rely on for a typical coastal cruise such as theirs.  I think you’ll find his reply, as usual, not only informative, but definitive.


DeFever 53 RPH aCappella Runs Offshore

DeFever 53 RPH aCappella Runs Offshore

“You raise a very interesting question – do the different networks provide good connectivity?  Or more importantly, do they provide good enough connectivity for boaters?

This is our third trip between Maine and Florida where we’ve had both AT&T and Verizon.  We’ve created a qualitative impression previously that both networks allow connectivity throughout the entire coastline.  There are some places where AT&T is better and some places where Verizon is better.  The nice thing is that each year, the speeds increase and both networks seem to be getting better for coastal use.

This year we’ve gotten more technical and quantitative because so many people tell us that they can’t use one network or another.  We thought it would be a good idea to start making speed measurements and putting it, of course, into ActiveCaptain.  There are a few web sites that can give you actual numeric bandwidth results from your connection:

That’s how we obtain our numbers.  We hope that our start with this will prompt others to do the same thing because there is nothing like real numbers to show the full story.  And we’re sure the numbers will change for the better over time.

The results?  There are some places where AT&T is better and some places where Verizon is better.  Just as we sensed before.  For example, here’s an anchorage we stayed at near Northport, NY on the Long Island Sound:

If you look at the details for the Asharoken anchorage, we wrote that AT&T had a 500 kb connection and Verizon had a 100 kb connection.

Another example – an anchorage in Atlantic City:

Verizon and AT&T were pretty equivalent there – 400 kb vs 500 kb.  That’s not a big enough difference to be meaningful.

Finally, here’s where we were last weekend – off the Chesapeake on the Great Wicomico River at Rogue Pt:

Verizon was much better than AT&T there – 800 kb vs 100 kb.

Here’s the best news though.  We haven’t been to a place yet where we lost all connectivity from either provider.  We’ve been able to get email from both systems every place we’ve been between Maine and Virginia.  We’ll keep tracking this on our way to Florida as well.  Downloading the 30 emails that are waiting with a 100 kb connection can take a minute but it’s still possible.  Getting current weather information and radar has all been possible at all of these connectivity speeds.

So I really don’t buy the idea that the iPhone should be ruled out because AT&T isn’t good enough.  That is probably true in some selected places just as I could find some selected places where Verizon connectivity isn’t good enough.  But for the east coast, I don’t think there’s much of an issue.  For all boats, we suggest having an amplifier (portable or built-in) to boost signal strength for either network at times.

It’s a good time to be using these digital services on a boat.  And it looks like it’ll only get better over time.”


Copyright © 2009 by OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in People, Technology

ActiveCaptain Could be the Wave of the Future

ActiveCaptain Screen Shot of Annapolis, MD-area Marinas

ActiveCaptain Screen Shot of Annapolis, MD-area Marinas

Telling you that ActiveCaptain “could” be the wave of the future is probably a little bit like saying the Internet will “probably be a big thing.”  The truth is, ActiveCaptain already is a fantastic resource for cruisers and passagemakers, but it might actually become something huge — a source of real-time, up-to-the-minute information that your navigation system can access while underway.  That’s saying something and the more ActiveCaptain develops, the less far-fetched it sounds.  But more on that later; let’s see why it’s already worth your time to “become” an ActiveCaptain.

Here’s the scenario; it’ll sound familiar.  You pull into a nice marina.  The docking goes smoothly; lines are all set; there’s good power onto the boat; registration with the dockmaster was a breeze, and it looks like happy hour will be a little earlier than first thought.  You get to talking with your neighbor in the next slip and mention how great this marina is compared to the last one you stayed at.  He looks at you like you have three heads and says, “I can’t believe you even stayed there.  NOBODY stays there!”  Okay, he might have let you down a little more gently, but you feel like an idiot for not knowing something that apparently everybody else already knew.  How do you keep that from happening again?  There’s a simple new answer:  ActiveCaptain, which is a number of things but above all else a repository of reliable, real reports and reviews of more marinas, anchorages and other places than you could ever visit in three boating lifetimes.

ActiveCaptain Balloon Display of Marina Info

ActiveCaptain Balloon Display of Marina Info

ActiveCaptain works by assembling, in a Wikipedia-sort of method, information useful to cruisers in a comprehensive, searchable database, called, for now, the Interctive Cruising Guide (a snazzy, re-vamped version called the ActiveCaptain Explorer wit even more life information, is in preview on the site).  You can find everything from marina reviews, to updated locations of channel and inlet markers, to up-to-the-minute reports on fuel prices — all contributed by registered members of the site and confirmed by ActiveCaptain founders and owners Jeffrey and Karen Siegel.  The Siegels have a number of things going for them.  First is the appetite for up-to-date information on cruising.  Waterway and marina guides in print are fine, as far as they go, but all suffer from latency — the time delay from the gathering of information to the time you buy the guide and read it.  Things, especially lately, can change quickly in the marine industry and ActiveCaptain has no time lag at all, with the exception of the possibility that no member has visited a particular marina lately and reviewed it.  Then again, if nobody is visiting it, you probably aren’t either.

The Siegels are also active cruisers, with a particularly interesting and useful blogthat you should check out.  They’ve traveled many of the waters and waterways covered by ActiveCaptain and their experiences continue to generate enhancements to the website.

Aside from the benefit of knowing you are contributing to a more complete database for cruisers, you can earn “points” with all your contributions of information to the site.  Accumulated points are redeemable in a new company store recently opened at the ActiveCaptain website.  The points allow you to make purchases at the store for select marine goods, such as handheld VHF radios.  The discounts afforded to site members are significant enough to bring prices down below wholesale level; essentially to dealer cost. 

ActiveCaptain Mobile Shown on Cell Phone

ActiveCaptain Mobile Shown on Cell Phone

ActiveCaptain also has a Mobile version that now works on both Palm OS devices (such as my own Palm Centro) and Windows Mobile Professional.  You can get charts for all of the U.S. for less than $50 (raster) and the system works very well.  I recently had to use it when, during a recent boat test, the chartplotter GPS failed and we got lost in the Fort Lauderdale canal maze.  I simply fired up a bluetooth GPS receiver (I’m stuck with Verizon for cell phone service, which deliberately disables GPS on its phones) and we were instantly back in business.

Posted by Tom in Destinations, Passagemaking News, Technology