Friday, November 16, 2007

Yet Another Awesome Island Trip

Cool Dolphin Sighting

We encountered this group of 15-20 Dolphins about 5 miles out of Newport Beach, CA -- very cool! (If you'd rather view this in another media player, here's a link to the MPEG file.)

Dining on the Waterfront in Newport

Years ago there were a number of places in Newport that had their own dock for boaters to tie-up when they visited. Time has apparently changed all that, there are only a few left, but luckily we found a good one...

So if you happen to find yourself in Newport Harbor looking for a fine meal, check out Villa Nova Restaurant, at the north-west end of the harbor. Their dock was an easy approach, no obstructions, the food was excellent, and their prices were well within reason. They serve Italian cusine and sea food; I had Swordfish Piccata (it melted in my mouth) and my crew had Chicken Parmesean (she clearly enjoyed it.) Even with an appetizer and a couple of drinks each, the check was under $70.

To top it off, service was top notch, the staff was friendly and helpful. The waiter was attentive, he took our order straight away, and the food was in front of us before we had a chance to think about it. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience. They suggest you call in advance to reserve a table and a space on their dock (we got lucky.) If you make it out there, tell Gary we sent you!

Villa Nova Restaurant
Phone: 949.642.7880
Lat: 33 37.228N Lon: 117 55.622W

Semi-Submarine tour, Avalon

This was shot from inside the 'semi-submarine', a tour boat that does not actually submerge, but it does put the passengers' eye level at about 6' underwater. It's a little pricey ($30 and change per person) but well worth it. The ride lasts almost an hour, and the tour guide was both interesting and knowledgeable.

The thing that seems to just about guarantee a good view is that they feed the fish at 3 different spots along the route, and the fish are very much in on the deal. They are clearly expecting the free meals, hundreds (if not thousands) of them show up on queue, to join in the feeding frenzy. (At the end of the clip you can see they're all in a hurry, all of a sudden... that was their dinner bell ringing.)

Captain and Crew

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Excellent hand-held GPS

If you want a truly fine personal GPS, try the Garmin GPSmap 76CSx, it is top of the line in every way... But be forewarned that it is useless (other than to tell you your lat/lon, of course) without buying map CD/DVD[s].

If you want to use it for boating, you'll need the BlueChart CD[s] for the area[s] you transit. The BlueChart Americas CD is like $150 at West Marine, it's a few bucks cheaper on the Garmin website, but after shipping the difference is negligible -- and being able to walk out of the store with it, has value.

The license that comes with it gives you coverage from Guatemala to half-way up the coast of Oregon -- but the area you get is up to your selection. If I thought it more likely to find myself sailing further north in Puget Sound, or [way] further east in Nantucket Sound I could've selected those regions instead. All it takes to "unlock" other regions is to send more money to Garmin, which you can do over the wire.

If you want to use your GPS for driving too (which is infinitely easier and more convenient than using, say, a Thomas Bros map book) you will also need the City Navigator North America DVD, for which you can expect to pay $100-$150

Make no mistake, I love Garmin's products, they are first rate! Also, their map software is far and away the best in the industry; their licensing fees do not strike me as unreasonable.

The only thing that put me off was that my 3 year old Garmin eTrex Legend GPS shipped with a reasonably workable built-in map set, it had accurate shoreline and prominent aids to navigation, as well as highway and thoroughfare street detail built into it -- you could actually use it out of the box, it even detailed some marinas.

The shoreline map built into the new one is an approximation at best, and excludes man-made features of land that pre-date the 1950's. It was a bit of a shock to find that I needed to go out and buy something else before I could use it at all -- and the fact that they do not offer download as a method of delivery for the maps didn't help any either. (You can unlock additional regions online, but you must wait for the mail or find it in a store to initially buy it.)

Otoh, having bought the maps I need, I wouldn't change my decision to buy this particular model (or brand, for that matter) for even a second. I am very pleased with its functionality as well as its user interface and the readability of its 256 color screen. I would highly recommend it to anyone shopping the high end for this sort of device.

I bought the device itself from for $345 delivered. The total cost, including BlueChart and City Navigator maps was about $620.

Note: some Garmin GPS units, such as the dash-mount StreetPilot series, do include extensive built-in or bundled map data.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Epic Dolphin Sighting

2007-03-21 4:15 PM PDT
Lat: 32 21.183 N
Lon: 117 53.866 W

It was the most awesome number of Dolphins I've ever seen, the group was at least 1 nautical mile wide, and hundreds of kilometers deep. My rough guess is there were at least 5,000 of them, without exaggeration.

At first sight we thought it was a school of tuna, but as they approached, all we saw were Dolphins, many of them youngsters. As our courses converged, I killed the engine and practically drifted through the middle of the group (very little wind); it took about 15 minutes for them to swim past. It was far and away the most incredible thing I've ever seen, over 30 years of sailing!

Sadly these photographs don't even begin to do justice to this experience -- it was unlike anything I've ever seen. There were literally thousands and thousands of them! It was freaking awesome! If you look really hard, you might be able to get an idea of what it was like. Consider that all of the white water in the background was caused by the dolphins.

The picture below is just another Southern California sunset...

Barbeque on the Boat - Tips and Tricks

Man there is nothing better than grilling up steaks after a long day sailing. Delicious! But it can end up being pricey. When you charter a boat, and want a barbecue, they charge you an extra $20-$25, which seems strange. They rent you a $75K yacht for $220/weekend day -- that's like 0.2% of the yacht's value. Then they tack on $25/day for a $150 barbecue -- 16% of the barbecue's value!

You don't need to be E.F. Hutton to see that an investment into your own marine barbecue will pay itself off pretty quickly. I bought one last month, it was about $200 with mounting hardware from West Marine, 17" across (a little bigger than most.) After I go sailing this weekend, it'll be half-way to paying for itself. (If I'd bought it 6 months ago, this venture would be well into the black.)
my trusty grill, hanging off a stern rail, in Avalon Harbor
Adding to that expense is the charcoal -- Matchlight has tons of appeal on a boat, there are just too many bad things that might happen with a can of lighter fluid in a lazerette. I even saw one guy who set fire to his swim step, when he failed to notice some excess lighter fluid had dripped out of his barbecue, and then accidentally ignited it.

But the small bag of Matchlight is about $5 these days, and painfully, it's about 10%-15% more charcoal than you need for a marine barbecue. Worse yet, once you open the bag, Matchlight doesn't keep very well, particularly on a boat! Nothing sucks worse than a cold barbecue full of charcoal that won't light, next to a plate full of raw meat, when you're hungry!

To solve this problem, I buy the biggest bag of Matchlight, and a box of 1-gallon Ziploc bags. I divide-up the big bag of charcoal, putting exactly the right amount of charcoal to grill a meal in each Ziploc bag. I split-up the whole bag of charcoal all at once, to make sure all of the briquettes are inside plastic bags as soon as the original bag is opened.

(Note: you may be tempted, as was I, to put boxes of wooden matches into their own small Ziplocs, and stick one inside each Ziploc bag of Matchlight -- don't do it! After 4 or 5 months the matches become oily with fuel from the briquettes, and they just smear when you try to strike them.)
I then store all of the Ziploc bags of charcoal inside the original bag, to protect them from getting worn/torn, and to contain the mess. When I go sailing, I grab one or two of the Ziploc bags, which makes me and my grill ready for any action.

At this writing, the big bag of Matchlight plus Ziploc bags and a 10-pack of box matches costs about $12, and gives me about 8 to 10 meals worth of fire I can depend on -- EDIT: ORIGINALLY THIS BLOG SAID no matter how long it takes me to use them.  That proved to be less than accurate, in practice this trick buys you a year, maybe two, to use the Matchlight.  Try to remember to grab a free newspaper on your way down the dock, as an insurance policy.

(BTW, if you're ever stuck with stale Matchlight, try laying a piece of newspaper in the middle, and partially crushing 5-10 charcoals with pliers over the paper. Then light the edges of the paper. There will usually be some unevaporated fuel inside of the briquettes, that will catch if you crack them open, and the heat from the broken-and-lit ones should cause the fuel inside the rest to vaporize and burn.)