Monthly Archives: April 2009


I have a lot of stuff to get done today since I’m leaving for Panama on Monday morning so I’m just going to hit you with a couple of silly thoughts about blogging:


“ Blogging is like masturbating into a mirror while you videotape yourself so you can watch it later while you masturbate. ”
— Lewis Black

Comments Off on Blogging

Filed under Uncategorized

How Swine Flu Spreads


From Bits&Pieces

Comments Off on How Swine Flu Spreads

Filed under Uncategorized

The Boater’s Car or Pickup Truck

When you’re a boater living on the hook (at anchor to you landlubbers) as opposed to living in a marina, you need a way to get around. As far as anyone knows there’s only one documented instance of a person walking on water, and you can’t swim from shore with a load of groceries. Therefor a dinghy is absolutely essential. It is your car/or pickup truck.

In choosing a dinghy for your needs there are several questions that need to be addressed.

What size should it be? This depends on how many people you are going to transport and how much gear you will be hauling from shore to the boat and back.

How fast do you want to go? There are three ways to go. You can row it, sail it or put an outboard on the back.

Where are you going to keep it? Are you going to keep it on deck? The cabin top? In a locker? On davits or are you going to tow it? Towing, though, has problems. If you’re going to make offshore passages it needs to come aboard. When you tow, spray inevitably gets inside the dinghy which adds weight and towing will measurably slow you down. A gallon of sea water weighs in at 8.556 lbs and each gallon that sprays into the dinghy means you’re dragging along more weight. And if you don’t keep an eye on the dingy and the tow rope you’re liable to lose it.

Basically you have two choices when choosing a dinghy. It will either be hard or an inflatable. Each, of course, has its pros and cons.

Hard dinghies are usually heavier than inflatables and are able to withstand more abuse and they aren’t prone to being punctured. They are generally easier to row, tow or sail than an inflatable. There are also many more choices (models, styles) available than a blow up boat. On the downside hard dinghy usually has a smaller carrying capacity than a similarly-sized inflatable. Hard dinghies are generally less stable than an inflatable and harder to climb into if you’re in the water. Stowage is also more problematic with a hard dinghy since they need to be hauled aboard and lashed down or suspended on davits off the transom. The problem of stowing of a hard dinghy can be eased somewhat by building or buying a “nesting” dinghy.

Inflatable dinghies are usually made of some kind of reinforced fabric, Hypalon is the most durable and therefore expensive, while others may be made with varying qualities of PVC. Inflatables are essentially tubes with varying flooring options; either soft or rigid. They generally have a larger hauling capacity than a  hard dinghy and are more stable and easier to get into from the water. With the exception of the semi-rigid inflatables they are generally lighter than a hard dinghy and therefore  easier to store aboard, often in a locker or the lazarette. Having your dinghy aboard the boat reduces the chance of theft but you certainly wouldn’t want to deflate one on a daily basis to stow it in a locker.

You can run an inflatable into a dock or the side of your boat without doing damage to much more than your dignity if people are around to see you do it. That is, unless there’s a nail sticking out of the wood on the dock where you hit. Then you’ve discovered the biggest shortcoming of the inflatable. They can, and do, get punctured and they depend on air to keep them afloat. The better built boats (read more expensive, here) are built with multiple chambers so that puncturing one doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to sink. Whatever choice of fabric that is used in the construction of an inflatable it is subject to degradation from the sun’s UV rays meaning more care is needed than with a hard dinghy.

While most inflatables perform better under power than a hard dinghy, they don’t usually tow as easily and rowing one, while not impossible, is somewhat akin to taking your car the grocery store by leaving the motor off, having the driver’s side door open and pushing it along with your left foot as if it was a scooter.

Variations of Inflatable Dinghies

Soft Bottom: These are the basic inflatable and  the least expensive. They are often likely to have only a single tube and if you hole it you’re sunk. But they’re light and easy to bring aboard. The bottom is usually a simple single layer of fabric. It’s very difficult to stand up in one of these boats. In general they will only accept the smallest of outboard motors and probably won’t plane.

Slat Floor Soft Bottom: A step up, but in my opinion a baby step. These dinghies have wood, plastic or metal slats built into the soft bottom and are rolled up with the dinghy after it’s been deflated. It is a bit more stable than a regular soft bottom dinghy but still difficult to stand up in one of them.

Removable Rigid Floorboard: These inflatables, as the name implies, has separate floorboards usually wood or aluminum. These floorboards are inserted over the fabric floor and held in place by the tubes when they are inflated. These are much better performers than either of the two previously mentioned tenders, but they require more time to make ready for use because you have to assemble the floor. When I was running Jolie Aire over in Europe we purchased a high–quality one of these and it performed well with a 25 hp outboard. It got up on a plane in an instant and was an enjoyable boat overall.

Rigid Bottom Inflatables: Generally referred to as RIBs or Hard Bottoms. This type of boat has an inflatable tube collar around a fiberglass deep-vee hull. These are the best performers of the inflatable boats. They are more stable than the other inflatables but are also harder to stow than the three previous inflatables and in this respect have the same stowage drawbacks of a hard dinghy. They come in a dizzying array of sizes from eight feet to this 38.5′ long inflatable with a cabin:


This is also an “RIB”

When I bought my Nancy Dawson she came with a 10′ RIB and a Suzuki eight horsepower outboard which served double duty as the power for the mother ship as well. I loved that dinghy and had a lot of fun with it. It towed well and I towed it for well over a thousand miles altogether. But it was a bear to stow on my little sailboat. You can read about what I had to do through in my post about sailing to Isla Mujeres.

Hard Dinghies

You can go to the many web sites by boat designers and be overwhelmed by the choices available to you. Some are beautiful and some are really, really ugly. They can be found made of wood, aluminum and fiberglass and a variety of sizes. The hard dinghy generally is easy to row, many can be sailed and most will accept some kind of outboard. From my own experience I think that the least desirable of these dinghies is a pram less than 10 feet long. That being said I leave it up to the reader to decide.

I have been intrigued for years by what is known as a “nesting” dingy. There are several versions of this kind of boat. It comes in two sections one of which “nests” inside the other and thereby taking up a smaller footprint onboard.

This is called a “Seaweed” and is presented here to show what is meant by “nesting.” It was home built by someone with good wood working skills and is in no way an endorsement of this design over any other. The article that is accessed through the link below will show you the entire building process and is well worth the read if you’re interested in how much work went into this boat. The author, Ray Henry, says it took him 171 actual working hours to create this beautifullyboat and cost approximately $900 for materials, rigging and harware but I don’t know when this was built.





1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Emergency Room Sticker Shock

Lee Zeltzer, who has the blog

wrote about a fire creeping up on his home the other day. Though they got through unscathed it wasn’t without incident:

“I ended up with something blowing into my eye and was blinded but decided to sleep and see if it was just an irritation that would be cleared by the morning; it wasn’t. Our Monday started with a trip to the Hospital Chiriqui Emergency room. The doctor there extracted what appeared to be a hair from my eye and gave me prescriptions for eye drops.

“When I was presented the ER bill I was a bit shocked. It has been a long time since a visit to an emergency room so I expected sticker shock. I received what I expected, shock. The bill was $5.15, a hospital aspirin costs more than that in the US.”

Comments Off on Emergency Room Sticker Shock

Filed under Uncategorized

Officially a Resident of Panama

Just a couple of  hours ago I got an email from my lawyer in Panama telling me that my Pensionado Visa has been approved and I am now a legal resident of the Republic of Panama. I will be going down there next week to get my ID.

Comments Off on Officially a Resident of Panama

Filed under panama, Retirement

Houseboat/Shantyboat Updated

I’ve been doing a lot of  thinking about what a design to use  for my prospective houseboat/shantyboat. I’ve been disappointed in the number of suitable designs available for one reason or another, and the selection isn’t very large. Years ago I had purchased the plans for GlenL’s Mark Twain 32 for several hundred dollars.



I don’t remember exactly how much the plans cost since it was  nearly 30 years ago. At that time I was really enamoured on the pontoon idea and the plans had full-sized drawings for the framing. But the plans are long gone and these days I’m leaning much more towards the barge hull designs.

Whether barge or pontoon building the houseboat/shantyboat has several advantages over more conventional boat designs in power or sail. Houseboat/shantyboats are much simpler to build. A barge is basically a box and the pontoon boat is basically two narrow boxes, and material costs are almost identical. There are no complicated compound curves to deal with in the process of building these designs. The “house” is bult like a regular shoreside structure so constructing one of these can fairly easily be done by almost anyone who got out of their high school shop classes with all fingers intact.



Think you could put that together? That’s basically how a barge hull is built.

In my previous post I said I rather liked the Bolger design.


I joined the Yahoo Group Bolger Boats and found that someone in Canada had actually built one


I think it certainly falls into the shanty boat category. But I’m not sure I care for the overall look. But the “house” can be built in so many different ways depending on one’s imagination and creativity. The pictured one is just one way of doing it. Never the less this design is a weak “maybe.”

I also said I liked the Evening Song


and I still do like the look. The drawback to this design is that it’s not self propelled.

I like the looks of George Buehler’s 25′ River Walker. There’s a nice web site on this, and other Buehler designs at:

The pictures of the barge hull above come from his site as do the following pictures that show a completed River Walker:




I think this is a very attractive boat and well executed. A big step up from a shanty boat.

I also am drawn to Beuhler’s Rufus:


This is 33′ long with an 11′ beam. What intrigues me about this is the SAIL!

Back into the more “shanty boat” theme is the Atkin & Co. design Nautilus;


This is a 32′ design with an 18′ beam. For complete information on this go to their site:

Plans for this boat are $75.00

The leader for possible build at this time is the Brandy Belle:


She’s 25′ with a 10′ beam and self-propelled.

There’s an excellent article in Mother Earth News’s site:

Warning: The story is excellent and you can purchase the plans in PDF format for $20. The article is five pages long and there’s an extremely irritating pop up that appears every time you access the page. I wrote to Mother Earth News’s support team and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s worth closing it out just to read through the story once.

I am most likely going to go with the 25′ length for several reasons, the pocket book being the motivating factor. While The Rufus and Nautilus are only7 and 8 feet longer and a couple of feet wider, it takes a lot more lumber, plywood, fiberglass, epoxy and paint to build them adding greatly to the construction costs. Though the size difference seems small the increase in costs are exponential. There would also be a heavier hit to the pocket to buy the larger outboard that would be necessary to power the boat and a lot more gas as well.

Now, as I said, what really interests me about Rufus is the sail! I am going to investigate the possibility of adding one to the boat I build, and the Brandy Belle seems the most likely candidate for doing this. Don’t scoff at this idea. There is a long history of sailing barges and scows (the difference between a barge and a scow is little more than semantics). If you’re interested Google Thames Sailing Barges or San Francisco Hay Scows. There is even a class of racing boats known as scows and they are very fast.

The sail would be an auxiliary power source and used primarily with the wind abaft the beam. Motor sailing has a lot going for it: it can increase speed and it saves fuel.When I was bringing the 85′ Jolie Aire across the Atlantic we motor sailed quite a bit. We ran the engine to keep the battery bank charged up and while we always had the sails up if the engine was off and our speed dropped to seven knots we would hit the starter button. We sailed from Grand Canary Island to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 13 days, six and a half hours at an average speed of just over 10 knots which is a very acceptable speed.

The addition of a sailing rig would necessitate the design and installation of a rudder for steering rather than relying on the outboard power for steerage. Having the outboard offset from the centerline really doesn’t effect how the boat operates as long as it’s not too far off the center. My Nancy Dawson had windvane self-steering gear on the centerline of the transom so the outboard bracket was on the port side out of necessity. One advantage I found with this arrangement was that when I had to make a really tight turn putting the tiller hard over and turning the outboard in the direction of the turn she’d turn in almost her own length and turn fast.

I’m sure that auxiliary sail power would greatly save on fuel consumption when there was enough wind in the right direction.

In a future post I mean to address dinghies and the addition of a mast will mean I’ll be able to lift one out of the water and carry it on the cabin top rather than towing it behind. I towed my dinghy behind Nancy for hundreds of miles and never had a problem, but it does have a drawback on speed due to the drag. Additionally when you’re anchored out a dinghy stored on the cabin top is pretty hard to steal in the middle of the night.


Filed under boats, Houseboat, Shanty boat

The Benefits of Living a Healthy Lifestyle

When I was staying at the funky Dim’s Hostel in Pedesi Panama recently (and if you’re ever down there I can’t recommend it enough for its ambiance and the friendliness of the staff) I spent a pleasant afternoon chatting with  a Panamanian lady who had lived in the States for many years. She lives a very healthy life style eating lots of fruits and veggies. I don’t know whether or not she’s strictly vegetarian or not but I half-jokingly told her that while I did enjoy good fresh fruits and veggies like you get in Panama I also really enjoy a thick slab of dead cow leaving a bit of blood on my plate. And I do.

There’s a couple of sayings I love:

You can’t take life too seriously because nobody’s getting out alive…

Stop smoking, exercise, eat right, DIE ANYWAY. If eating an occasional slab of bleeding dead cow means I’m going to kick off a few years earlier than if  ate twigs and bark I’ll settle for the cow…


Comments Off on The Benefits of Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Filed under Uncategorized