Sunday, January 20, 2013

Zombies & Conchs

During the first week of January, I took my boat 200 miles south to Plantation Key and was powerfully struck, once again, by the difference between South Florida and the Keys.

The beginning of the trip down the Intracoastal from Fort Pierce was totally uneventful, and I saw only two small boats during the first 40 miles. Then I crossed into Palm Beach County and entered South Florida. After the peaceful, leisurely run, suddenly there were boats everywhere, and most operators had left courtesy, common sense, and good judgment behind. Sports fisherman were running flat-out, passing within twenty feet of me and throwing five-foot wakes. Around nearly every bend I encountered kayaks and paddleboats, propelling themselves leisurely down the middle of the channel, totally oblivious to the traffic…why not skateboard down I-95 at rush hour? Watching porpoises cavorting in your wake is fun, but being pursued by a pack of hornet-like jet skis intent on jumping your wake is just plain dangerous!

There were lengthy delays for drawbridges (39 bridges between Lantana and Miami) and small boats were constantly trying to pass on the wrong side. Both sides of the Intracoastal are built out with homes and condos, and the only patches of native greenery I saw were the occasional waterside parks. In Broward County, home of Fort Lauderdale, the boating capital of the world, I had reached the infamous “concrete canyon”, a narrow stretch of the waterway encased in seawall with uninterrupted high-rise condo complexes blocking out the sun. There were no speed limits observed in this section of the Intracoastal, and everyone drove wide-open, throwing wakes that doubled in size as the backwash was reflected from the seawalls.

As I entered Dade County, the Intracoastal became wider and traffic thinned out. The Intracoastal passes through the colorful vertical skyline of downtown Miami and then reveals the horizontal skyline of glistening white cruise ships in Government Cut. Suddenly, I passed under the high Rickenbacker Bridge and entered the open waters of Biscayne Bay…what a relief! The water color changed and my pulse began to slow down. Time for setting the autopilot and the color plotter navigation program on my iPad, as the boat slowly chugged south.

Just a few miles down the bay, I entered the 600,000 acre Biscayne National Park and began to pass the first in a chain of uninhabited islands that offer free anchorage: Soldier Key, Ragged Keys, Boca Chita and Sands Key. Fifteen miles out of Miami, I passed through Featherbed Cut, a narrow passage between mudbanks that every boat traveling north or south through Biscayne Bay must traverse; there was wide water ahead of me and seven-mile long Elliott Key was to the east. After passing under the high Card Sound Bridge, I crossed the two-mile long Barnes Sound, entered a narrow mangrove channel known as Jewfish Creek, and officially entered the Keys at Blackwater Sound. I had seen only two boats since leaving Miami! Key Largo was on my left.

Key Largo, the largest of the Florida Keys is about half the size of Manhattan but has a population of only 12,000 versus the city’s 1,600,000…obviously a lot more trees than people here. While the Keys lack the white sand beaches found in most of South Florida, they boast the clearest water found anywhere outside of the Bahamas. The cleansing Gulf Stream passes nearby and the shallow coastal waters offer an abundant variety of fish, shellfish and mollusks.

People who have never visited the Keys imagine that the rampant development that blights South Florida just continues down this 90-mile long chain of islands, but aerial photography ( reveals most of the area is still natural woodland and water. There are hundreds of uninhabited islands where you can anchor for a day, a week, or a month or two before moving on. 

The reason I migrate to the Keys each year is the weather, the natural beauty, the privacy, and the laid-back lifestyle where Keys Cruisers (bicycles) are still the preferred mode of transportation. The few people I still stay in touch with think I’ve dropped out; others think I’ve died; but the truth is that I’ve probably found my own heaven here on Earth.

Many who have read my novel Boca Chita: Prepare. Escape. Survive. have labeled me a “prepper” or a “survivalist”; in fact one reviewer included my novel in the list of the “10 Best Survivalist Books”. Another reviewer described me as a modern Robinson Crusoe. The fact is that I carefully prepared for this lifestyle by learning a wide variety of skills, finding and fitting out my survival platform boat, and determining where I’d most like to spend my remaining days on this planet.

The National Geographic television series Doomsday Preppers has both popularized and ridiculed the prepper movement by interviewing self-proclaimed preppers who appear to spend most of their time stockpiling food and ammunition in the anticipation of a final shootout from their spider-hole bunker with a band of “zombies”. Since I seldom watch television and have not attended a movie since the mid-60s, I had no idea what a “zombie” was, until I googled it and learned that a zombie was “an undead being in horror fiction, largely drawn from George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Zombies have since appeared as plot devices in various books, films, television shows, and video games.”

Apparently, an entire generation or two has grown up believing that zombies really exist and they’re coming to eat your brain! I readily admit I don’t believe that zombies or vampires are a legitimate threat. They’re not the enemy…the bankers, politicians, lawyers, realtors, car salesmen, and others who earn their livelihood trapping us in debt bondage are the true threat to our freedom. I don’t believe that arming myself for a final shootout is the answer. The traditional reaction to a confrontation is fight or flight; why prepare for a gunfight, when you can simply escape to a sunny paradise in your boat? I’m not ashamed to admit that I prefer flight…just sail away!

Of course, both luck and fortune favor the prepared. The original settlers in the Keys, affectionately known as “Conchs,” came here for the same reason as the generations that followed. Leave your ammunition and zombies behind. Just lie back and enjoy!


Thursday, November 29, 2012


This week we navigate navigation.

Dead Reckoning:
Every boater needs to know proper navigation techniques to arrive at a desired destination safely and on time. The earliest ocean voyagers and explorers relied on a process known as “dead reckoning,” in which a vessel’s speed and heading were recorded each day, and an estimate of its current position was plotted on a chart. Prior to the invention of the magnetic compass, a course was steered relative to known stars or the position of the sun on the horizon. Speed was determined by dropping a chip of wood (a “chip log”) into the sea off the bow and timing exactly how long it took to reach the transom; since the boat’s length was a known, the speed at which the vessel passed the chip was recorded as an estimate of the boat’s speed. Of course, these primitive methods didn’t account for drift, currents or winds.

For thousands of years, accurate clocks and timepieces weren’t available aboard ships, so a “sand glass” (often erroneously known as an “hour glass”) was used. To determine speed the sailors used a 30-second sand glass, while a 30-minute sand glass was used to keep ship’s time. By the way, the content of the “sand” glass was usually not sand, but a mixture of ground-up seashells, stone, eggshells, marble or other materials that would be less likely to stick together. It wasn’t until the invention of the chronometer, (ship’s clock), that longitude could be accurately calculated. Today, a $10 electric watch is as accurate as a chronometer of the 18th century, which cost over 1,000 times more. By measuring the angle between the masthead and the sun at noon, the navigator could determine latitude. Until the 1920s, a sailor’s day changed not at midnight, but at noon.

Paper Charts:
Anyone piloting a boat should know how to read a paper chart, though as boats continue to get bigger, faster, and more expensive, operators are becoming less qualified. You should know how to plot a course from point A to point B without running aground or getting hopelessly lost if you lose sight of land. You should know how to use a protractor, parallel rulers for plotting bearing and direction, and a divider for measuring distance.

The use of paper maps or charts dates back to the very beginning of recorded history. Every seafarer drew his version of the coasts he sailed by and the harbors in which he sought shelter. As a ship approached coastal waters, a sailor would lower a lead weight on a line incrementally knotted in fathoms (6') to determine the “sounding” or depth. The weight on the “lead line” contained a hollow point that was stuffed with beeswax, so a sample of the bottom could be pulled up and recorded. Today’s nautical charts are the result of generations of mistakes, which you don’t need to repeat. A chart is cheap insurance. However, regardless of what the chart shows, don’t steer toward birds standing in the water!

The widespread use of the accurate, inexpensive national system known as GPS has given a false sense of navigational security to the digital generation. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather, anywhere on Earth where there is an unobstructed line-of-sight to four or more GPS satellites. While aircraft positioning requires a “fix” on four satellites, boats only require three satellites to determine their position because elevation (altitude) is fixed at sea. The GPS system was originally developed by the military in 1973 and is owned and maintained by the United States government; it’s freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver.

Between 24 and 32 GPS satellites, in stationery medium earth orbit, broadcast radio signals from space, and each GPS receiver uses these signals to calculate its three-dimensional location (latitude, longitude, and altitude) and the current time. Each satellite contains solar-charged long-life batteries which power the radio station and an extremely accurate atomic clock. Long after the world as we know it ceases to exist, the GPS satellite stations will continue to broadcast to our radio-receiver GPS units.

You can spend thousands of dollars for built-in marine GPS units which have the ability to interface with other navigational instruments like radar, depth-finders, and autopilot, or you can purchase inexpensive hand-held marine units made by Garmin or Magellan, which will still get you there. Expect to pay about $100-$150 for these battery-powered units that are about the size of a smart phone. I used an entry level, hand-held Magellan GPS on a previous trawler for ten years…just try to avoid dropping it overboard!

Smart Phone GPS:
Cell phone manufacturers have been installing tracker chips in cell phones for years; this technology allows law-enforcement agencies to pinpoint the location of the phone. It was a fairly simple software step to turn the cell phone into a GPS-capable device. Now anyone with a smart phone can download navigation software and use their phone as a navigational instrument. The navigation application is primarily used for land-based location and directions. I don’t recommend using your smart phone as your primary GPS instrument. If you drop it overboard, you’re without an instrument; if you run out of battery charge, you’ve lost your ability to navigate.

If you want the best built-in GPS equipment for your boat, you can expect to spend $1,500 to $6,000+ for a unit which has plotter functions that allow you to program a course and track your progress in real time. A full-color monitor, often the size of a flat-screen television, will keep you in the channel and identify markers, buoys, and day-beacons. Many units also offer a satellite view option and a depth-finder interface which displays the contours of the bottom you’re passing over; additional software can look forward and to the side just like sonar. Most plotters also offer interfaces with radar and autopilot. The units offer audible alarms to alert you when you’re off course, need to change course, or are entering shallow water or pulling your anchor. By adding a Bluetooth interface or downloading additional software, you can access shore-based service facilities.

A tablet is a general-purpose computer contained in a single panel. Its distinguishing characteristic is the use of a touch screen as the input device. This lightweight, portable computer is a transitional device between a smart phone and a laptop. Popularized by Apple’s advertising campaigns, the first iPad revolutionized the computer industry. Though many manufacturers now offer tablets, the iPad’s clean lines, retina display and simple operating system have made it the number one choice in the market. Now that 4 generations and a mini iPad have been released, the iPad has become the go-to primary navigation instrument for many boaters.

I like the iPad 3 with wi-fi and cellular capability that allows you to operate the device as a full function GPS plotter. I also like buying refurbished equipment directly from the Apple store because it comes with a new guarantee. Expect to pay between $379-$679.

Expect similar prices on eBay for refurbished iPad 3 units:

You can mount the iPad on your bridge in a specially-designed bracket manufactured by the Ram Mount company for less than $50.
The iPad 3 has a 9.7 inch color screen with retina high-resolution display and a 10 hour battery life. (Add a solar charger). You can download “free” and “fee” marine navigation software; for reviews and to find the best application for your personal needs go to:

The added advantage of the iPad is that it’s multifunctional; when not navigating, it offers excellent video conferencing on, a high resolution still and video camera, a voice-activated recorder, and many of the features of a compact laptop—I use it with my wireless keyboard and mouse. Thousands of additional apps are available.

Closing Observations: 
As a former professor at the Merchant Marine Academy, I’m a big advocate of boat operation and safety courses. Learn how to navigate. Take courses offered by the US Coast Guard or your local Power Squadron; you can even take the course online at:

The waters in the Bahamas are so crystal clear that a lookout is often all you need to thread your way through narrow channels to pristine deserted islands. The rule of thumb when sight navigating is: “If it’s blue, you’ll float on through; if it’s brown, you’ll run aground; if it’s white…you might.”

The Treasure Coast

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photovoltaic Power

This week’s article is about exciting developments in solar energy. I’m not referring to appliances like solar hot water heaters or ovens, but innovations that capture energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. Most of us are familiar with the photovoltaic cells that power calculators, flashlights and battery chargers, but aren’t yet aware of the breakthroughs made in the 2nd and 3rd generations of PV that will have a big impact in the future. How about: thin film collectors that roll out like window shades; solar spray paint that turns your windows into solar panels; nanowires, woven into your sails that will produce electricity; and even solar paint blended with nanoparticles to turn your home or boat into a huge solar panel? This isn’t some future dream, it’s now!

Although the means to produce solar electricity has been around for over 50 years, solar electricity generating devices, often referred to as photovoltaics or PV, are still considered cutting-edge technology. The promise of clean, cheap, and abundant electricity from the sun has been the dream of many scientists and businesses. As a result, every year a number of discoveries and advances are made, but most people know little or nothing about the current stage of PV technology.

In this installment I discuss the three generations of PV, and the equipment currently on the market and soon to be available.

1st Generation:  
Rigid Solar Panels. Originally developed for NASA for use in the space program, photovoltaics (PV) or solar cells are semiconductor devices that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. Solar cells are connected to form solar panels; panels are connected to create arrays, which can be used to charge batteries, operate motors, and power any number of electrical loads. By using a battery storage bank and an inverter, a PV system can produce alternating current (AC) compatible with conventional appliances.

A PV cell uses sunshine to strip electrons from a silicon wafer. A typical silicon PV cell is composed of a thin wafer consisting of an ultra-thin layer of phosphorus-doped (N-type) silicon on top of a thicker layer of boron-doped (P-type) silicon. An electrical field is created near the top surface of the cell where the two materials are in contact, called the P-N junction. When sunlight strikes the surface of a PV cell, this electrical field provides momentum and direction to light-stimulated electrons, resulting in a flow of current when the solar cell is connected to an electrical load.

2nd Generation:  
Thin Film Printed Panels. The big breakthrough in PV technology came when scientists and engineers discovered they could apply extremely thin layers of a semiconductor material (copper indium gallium diselenide, abbreviated as CIGS) to a low-cost backing such as glass, flexible metallic foil, high-temperature polymers or stainless steel sheets. Nanosolar, a company with manufacturing plants in Germany and San Jose, California, uses ink-jet printing technology to apply nanoparticle ink on continuous rolls of metallic film moving at high speed past the printer heads. The foil is then cut into strips to create solar panels that can be rolled up like window shades. The company’s long-term goal, once the production process is fully optimized, is to produce photovoltaic panels at 60 cents per watt and retail them for about $1.00 a watt. Their proprietary approach to printing CIGS and nanoparticle inks minimizes the use of expensive, high-vacuum manufacturing equipment.

These thin-film panels, which have revolutionized the marine PV market, are available to boaters in flexible, foldable, and rollable panels which can be compactly stowed and rolled out much like a window shade when needed, to provide solar power to keep batteries charged or to store electricity in a house battery bank for powering your inverter system. In my novel Boca Chita, ( Mark uses thin-film PV panels to charge his boat’s battery bank. Among the companies currently offering thin-film PV panels are, Ganz GSP Marine Grade Solar Panels, and Brunton SolarRoll.

The 3rd Generation:  
Nanoparticles. Nanophotovoltaics are the third generation of PV and the latest in the quest to develop less-expensive, cheaper-to-produce solar panels that are even lighter than their predecessors. Right now, scientists are creating photovoltaic panels using technologies such as carbon nanotubes, nanowires, nanoantennas, and quantum dots. These nanophotovoltaics can consist of PV components that are 1/1,000th the thickness of a human hair, printed directly onto sheets of metal or other substrate.

Carbon Nanotubes: Using novel nanomaterials, researchers at Stanford University have built the first all-carbon solar cells. The carbon photovoltaics don’t produce much electricity, but as the technology is perfected, all-carbon cells could be inexpensive, printable, flexible, and tough enough to withstand extreme environments and weather.

Silicon Nanowires: About 1/1,000th the thickness of a human hair, each nanowire is a complete photovoltaic cell with a “p” (positive) and “n” (negative) junction. Cells manufactured with nanowire technology use minute amounts of silicon and can utilize a lower-grade of material, making them much less expensive to produce than crystalline silicon cells that need expensive, high-grade silicon. These nanowires could be woven into fabric from clothing to sails to produce PV electricity.

Microscopic antennas: Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory have learned to capture up to 80 percent of the sun’s mid-infrared rays. Their nanoantennas are 1/25th the width of a human hair. The material, which looks like gold on a sheet of plastic, could cost pennies a yard, be imprinted on flexible materials, and still draw energy after the sun has set. They are also able to absorb infrared heat and waste heat to produce electricity, which would allow the nanoantennas to cool buildings and computers without air conditioning. These nanoantennas could also be used in clothing which would warm or cool the wearer.

Nanospray: Solar Windows. New Energy Technologies has developed a method of spraying windows with a transparent nano-thin PV material. Its PV cells are 1/4 the size of a grain of rice and 1/1,000th the thickness of a human hair. The tiny cells produce electricity from both natural and artificial light. The company is developing a product called SolarWindows, which uses the spray process to create electricity-producing windows. Researchers at the Tampa, Florida college, USF, have engineered a simple spray that makes any piece of glass a photovoltaic cell. This means that any window, glass, skylight or other glass structure on the outside of a building, house, or boat could be sprayed to produce photovoltaic power.

Solar Paint: Scientists at Notre Dame University have developed an innovative “solar paint” that relies on semiconducting nanoparticles called “quantum dots,” which they have blended into a spreadable compound that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment. Users would only have to apply a single coat of paint on the outside of their homes (or boats) to enable sunlight to activate the power-producing nanoparticles and produce clean, green electrical energy. It will soon be marketed under the name “Sun-Believable” paint.

Solar energy will play an increasingly important role in our future, but the future is now. Thin-film solar panels are routinely sold online and in retail marine stores; you can buy them in any size and roll them up until you’re ready to bugout and need them. Solar windows are available now. Solar paint is a reality. Think about how you might power your future from the ultimate renewable, sustainable source: the sun.

Next time, I’ll discuss marine electrical equipment, including generators, wind turbines, towed generators and inverter systems.

The Treasure Coast

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


To both the prepper and survivor the three real necessities are: water, food, & shelter…in that order. However, the order is reversed in inclement weather, during which survival is based on the Rule of 3: you can survive for 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, or 3 weeks without food. When you go without food, you lose weight; when you are deprived of shelter (depending on the climate) you can get sunburned or freeze to death, but if your water supply is quickly dehydrate and die. For survival purposes, a gallon per person per day is a good rule of thumb. It’s not realistic to assume you’ ll be able to carry enough freshwater with you on your bugout boat, so having a water-maker is a necessity.

Types of Water: White, Grey, Black
Whitewater is potable; greywater (sullage) is wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing, and bathing; blackwater (sewage) contains human waste. Whitewater is the goal today, but how do we make it?

Filtering vs. Desalination:
Filtering removes sediment, bacteria, pathogens, and some viruses while desalinization removes the salts, turning seawater into whitewater. Filters alone cannot remove dissolved salts. Desalinization requires a process known as reverse osmosis, in which seawater under high pressure (55 bar/800 psi) is forced through a filter (semi-permeable membrane) that traps the salts and allows potable freshwater to emerge. This desalinization process yields only about 20% freshwater; the remaining saltwater is discharged overboard as waste. The difference between filtration and reverse osmosis is the pressure under which the fluid is forced through the filter. The pump used to create the pressure head can be driven manually, electrically, or mechanically. 

Equipment: Manual/12 V/110 v/Solar/Water-powered

Manual Systems:
The PUR-Katadyn Survivor 35, a hand-powered unit developed for and used by the military, is the obvious choice. The company’s first customer was the US Navy, who wanted a hand-operated, reverse osmosis water-maker for their 35-person life rafts. This compact unit can produce 1.2 gallons of potable freshwater an hour and need not be run continuously. At about $2,400 USD, this affordable, hand-powered water-maker is the least expensive unit aside from the DIY models.

12 Volt Systems:
PUR PowerSurvivor 40E. This compact, highly durable 12 volt water-maker is the smallest and least expensive power water-maker available. This unit delivers 1.5 gallons per hour and is the only power water-maker that converts to manual operation in emergencies. The power requirements are: 12 volts DC (draws 4 amps) or 24 volts DC (draws 3 amps). This unit has a list price of about $4,000.

Portable Generator Powered:  
I like this portable water-maker, which is powered by a Honda EU2000i suitcase generator (my favorite) and can be operated as needed. The unit produces 20 or 30 gallons of fresh water per hour and charges your battery at the same time! My Honda generator gets about 8 hours of run time on a single gallon of gas, and I get about 200 gallons of freshwater for that gallon of gas! The manufacturer claims it’s the highest freshwater output water-maker per dollar. The replacement filters use Industry Standard DOW FilmTec RO membranes with a replacement cost of only $187 each. There is a lifetime warranty on all its stainless steel high-pressure fittings, RO pressure vessels, and its high-pressure pump, stainless steel head, and cast aluminum body. The units cost between $4,000-$5,000 exclusive of the $1,000 Honda generator.

Engine/Generator/Inverter Operated:
Spectra Watermakers manufactures the finest quality, most efficient, quietest, and easiest-to-use water-makers in the world. If you have a sizable investment in your yacht, you will want equipment that works reliably when you need it. This equipment can be operated on either high or low voltage or from your engines when underway. If quality, rather than cost is the deciding factor, you may consider Spectra. They offer water-makers producing from 150 to 2800 gallons per day. In my novel Boca Chita, ( Mark uses a 600-gallon per day Spectra water-maker.

Solar Powered:
Solar powered water-makers use evaporation-condensation technology, in which salt water is heated by the sun under a transparent canopy and evaporates; the solar canopy captures the evaporated water vapor, which then condenses as “dew” and drips into a freshwater collector basin. This is nature’s technology; the sun heats the sea which releases water vapor which forms clouds; as the vapor cools within the cloud, it condenses as rain.

In 1952 the United States military developed a portable solar still for pilots stranded on the ocean, which uses an inflatable 24-inch plastic ball that floats on the ocean, with a flexible tube coming out the side. A separate plastic bag hangs from attachment points on the outer bag. Seawater is poured into the inner bag from an opening in the ball's neck. Freshwater is taken out using the side tube that leads to the bottom of the inflatable ball. On a sunny day 2.5 US quarts of freshwater could be produced. On an overcast day, 1.5 US quarts was produced. Similar seawater stills are included in some life raft survival kits.

Watercone Solar Still:
The Watercone is a mobile, lightweight, easy-to-use and portable one-person solar still that uses sunshine to transform seawater into purified drinking water. Intended for disaster relief in third-world countries, this simple, non-mechanical water-maker creates about 1.5 liters of freshwater per day. The parent company, Mage Water Management Company in Germany, designs and builds large-scale desalinization water plants. I worked with them on a project here in Florida.

Everyman’s Watermaker: This DIY water-maker uses the high-pressure pump from an off-the-shelf Karcher pressure washer, which is available for less than $100! Lots of good links on this website! The boat-owner designed and built this system, which costs about $2,000 and produces about 25 gallons of freshwater per hour. It’s a bit technical but still understandable.

Water powered:
I have not seen one of these water powered water-makers in use but I like the concept. The manufacturer claims that the Waterlog is the simplest and most rugged water-maker. This is the only self-powering, water-drive water-maker; you tow it behind your boat while you’re underway and like a taffrail log, a spinning propeller turns the pump. No electrics, plumbing, or installation for this simple water-maker. It is constructed entirely of stainless steel. The Waterlog 200 produces up to 24 gallons per day or 1 gallon per hour. Of course the downside is that it only produces water when the boat is underway. I don’t have a firm price on this unit, but estimated cost is about $3,000.

In a later installment I’ll discuss alternate power sources including wind-turbine generators, water-driven generators and the three generations of PV (photovoltaic): flat plate, thin-film and nanotechnology including the new PV paint!

Treasure Coast, Florida

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dollars and Sense

--> The temperature here at the marina had dropped to the mid-50s this morning when I awoke at 5:30, but should rise to the mid-70s by mid morning. My friend and partner in Connecticut called to say she was struggling with a flash snow storm which arrived on the heels of Hurricane Sandy last week. Thousands around her are without power and heat. For many people, Sandy WAS a life altering event. I’d like to extend my sympathy to all the folks struggling through the aftereffects of Sandy and the one-two punch of this new winter storm. Prepping is both a mindset and a process that is just as useful for surviving these natural disasters as it will be for later cataclysmic events. A little space heater is keeping my enclosed aft salon cozy while I reflect this morning on why I decided to move to Florida back in my late 20s. An elderly Canadian architect friend, a snowbird, gave me some sage advice when he said: “Lance, older gets colder…move south!”

I took his advice and headed to the Sunshine State in my 12-year-old Volkswagen Beetle (with 190,000 miles on it) and $500 (my life savings) in my pocket. I put a valve through a piston at Crescent Beach, FL (ten miles south of St. Augustine), rolled into the shell parking lot of a mom and pop motel and starting knocking on the doors of beach houses within walking distance, looking for handyman work that afternoon. When an owner asked me what I could do, I walked around his house and said, “Well, I could replace those broken panes of glass, and clean your gutters, rescreen your porch, repair your deck and handrail and paint your garage door for a start. I’ll even cut your grass and trim your palms. Let me show you what I can do.” And he did!

Everyone gave me work, and because I was competent, fair in my pricing, showed up on time, and always finished the job, I soon had all the work I could handle. Within two weeks, I had moved into an older beachfront rental house at a deeply discounted rent ($200/month) in return for doing some repair work. I bought an old VW van a month later (for cash) and quickly built a handyman/caretaker business. Three years later I owned 2.5 acres of prime oceanfront and built a magnificent home. Was it just luck?

Of course not! It was self-reliance, confidence and focused energy. It was also my survival instinct. Many mariners have said there’s no better bilge pump than a five-gallon bucket in a sinking boat. Unlike most of my contemporaries, I had been willing to turn my back on ten years of college education and a Ph.D. to perform handyman work…it also turned out to pay much better!

Many people who read my novels and my blog are “wannabe” preppers and survivalists, who feel that hoarding canned goods, digging a spider-hole in a bugout location and buying a reliable automatic weapon and plenty of ammunition will be sufficient to make it through TEOTWAWKI. It’s simply not true! What will work is preparation and careful planning; surviving is a learned skill; it’s not an event, it’s a process.

What I advocate is finding a suitable boat, moving aboard to keep your expenses at a minimum while you fix it up, and making practice runs to various bugout locations for increasingly longer periods of time until you’ve developed the survival skills and self-confidence to support yourself and your loved ones. The best part is that it’s fun!

Sure, I understand that most of you have homes and families and are afraid to take a risk. Many have educations instead of skills or trades; too many of you already feel enslaved by debt bondage. Many are waiting for that cataclysmic event that will change your lives. I believe your priorities are wrong. Preppers get ready before the event, while survivalists react after the event.

I’m suggesting a proactive series of life-changing decisions. You need to think about moving to a gentler climate, where the weather isn’t a seasonal adversary. You need to re-evaluate how you’re currently spending your time, energy and money. Is it really worth working two jobs to support that luxury car or SUV? Do you really need all the stuff you’re making payments on? Stop using credit! Start by lightening your load; start liquidating everything you don’t really need. CraigsList will help you make the cheapest, easiest move in your life. Dump your debt, even if it’s at a temporary loss. Give that house with its underwater mortgage back to the bank. (Remember “mortgage” means “death pledge”). It’s never too early or too late to move south and start over again. Stop using credit to buy stuff you can’t afford or don’t really need. Get rid of the 2nd car; within three years the money saved on payments could buy you a floating home. 

Rent until you can find the right boat to move aboard. Reduce your living expenses while you start increasing the quality of your life. Remember boats don’t require property tax. Many marinas include electricity and water in the monthly dockage…the more amenities at the marina, the more expensive the monthly fees. Tie up behind someone’s vacant house if possible. Banks have lots of vacant waterfront foreclosures that could use an on-site caretaker. Examine if you really need insurance…after a cataclysmic event, to whom are you going to submit a claim?

Learn new skills and employable/barter-able trades. Become self-employed. I found that I could easily earn $1,000 a week sanding and varnishing teak and bright-work on yachts tied up at the marina. I could earn $100/day just washing and waxing yachts. Lighten up! Start enjoying your life while you’re getting prepared. Ride a bike to work. No need for winter clothes, snow tires or heating bills. Grow a kitchen garden year-round. Learn to harvest the gifts of the sea. Wouldn’t you really rather spend your days fishing under the shade of a palm tree than fending off customer complaints on the phone? Or trying to collect delinquent accounts from a debtor? Or trying to sell a product or service that no one really needs or wants? Maybe the crisis that you’ve been preparing to escape from is really your current life!

I realize that for some of you, bugging-out is not a viable option, particularly those with elderly/sick relatives or family/friends they can’t or don’t want to be separated from. Sheltering in place, or “bugging-in” might be the only option. I’ll address this issue in a later installment.

A quick message to Boomers and Seniors like myself. There has never been a better time to buy a liveaboard trawler or motoryacht than right now. If you have sold your home, buy a boat and join the thousands of us who enjoy the sun and sea every day. You’ll find that your pension and Social Security check will go much further than you ever expected. 

I’m at the end of today’s message. The brilliant sun has warmed it up to 72 already and I’m ready to hop on my bike and peddle up to the fruit market where grapefruit are selling at 4 for a dollar today.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Although the most cost-effective method to propel a vessel is either by sail or oars, every boat should have an engine, and ideally two: a diesel inboard and a small gasoline outboard that can be used for the dinghy. More than a thousand ships have sunk in the Florida Straits and most of them might have made it to a safe harbor if they’d been able to use mechanical or auxiliary propulsion. In this installment I discuss outboards and inboards, gas and diesel, and two-cycle vs. four-cycle engines. Let’s start with outboards. 

I’ve never owned a boat with big twin outboards; in fact, the largest outboard I’ve ever had was a forty horsepower Yamaha on my Novurania RIB launch…it went plenty fast for me! When I was a kid, the small outboards we used to power our wooden skiffs were typically ten horsepower or less and were manufactured by American companies like Evinrude, Johnson and Mercury. The Japanese have now nearly dominated the outboard motor industry with brands like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Nissan and Tohatsu. Chinese-made outboard engines have begun flooding the market, but I’ve had no experience with them. In addition, there are several American and German manufacturers now producing electric outboards…I know very little about their products, so I won’t discuss them here. And of course, there was the venerable British-made Sea Gull outboard.

            American: Mercury, Evinrude, Johnson
            Japanese:  Honda is best with Yamaha a close second
            in sales, reliability, and customer satisfaction
            British: Seagull for simplicity and durability

Seagull Outboard: “The Best Outboard for the World”
I still like the old British Seagull design for its simplicity. If it breaks, it can usually be fixed it with a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a pipe-cleaner. During the 1960s, I used a small Sea Gull as an auxiliary, get-home engine on my 21' cruising sailboat. These very basic, lightweight outboards were in production from 1931 through 1999, and have undergone very few changes in design over the past 68 years. They were the outboard of choice of the British Admiralty for their 24-hour continuous-running durability. The incredible torque produced by their 13" diameter prop earned them the nickname "barge pushers"; their 10 hp, 2-cylinder design is rated to push a 30' boat! Parts are still available.

Two-Cycle vs. Four-Cycle engines:
A two-cycle engine is an internal combustion engine that completes a power cycle in just two strokes. The combustion stroke and the beginning of the compression stroke happen simultaneously and perform the intake and exhaust functions at the same time. A four-cycle engine requires four strokes to accomplish the power cycle. Two-cycle engines are used for lightweight applications like garden tools, chainsaws, and two-wheel transportation vehicles. Four-cycle engines are used in most automobile engines and diesel engines. There are exceptions of course, like the two-stroke SAAB automobile engine or the Detroit Diesel engines. 

Outboards: Two-cycle vs. Four-cycle
Four-cycle engines:
            -Less air pollution
            -Don’t need oil mixed into gas
            -Heavier and more durable
            -Much more expensive

Two-cycle engines:
            -Lighter weight for the same horsepower
            -Oil must be mixed with gas
            -Fewer moving parts
            -Less expensive

My Recommendations:
Every bugout boat needs a dinghy, and that dinghy should have a small outboard, 3 hp to 5 hp, to make trips ashore fast and convenient in most weather conditions. For the cost and weight difference, I’m still most comfortable with a two-stroke engine. Buy a used engine…most small, used outboards typically have very few engine hours on them, and need only a carburetor rebuild to have them running like new. Always use fresh gas and make sure you add only the manufacturer’s recommended amount of oil. Add a shot of fuel stabilizer if the engine is going to sit more than a couple of weeks.

Inboards: Diesel or Gas?
Although gasoline inboards are less expensive than diesel engines, they are an ever-present danger to the live-aboard. Unlike gasoline, diesel doesn’t explode! Diesel, leaked into the bilge, will emit fumes that are noxious to some people, but won’t explode like gasoline if the bilge isn’t fan-vented before ignition. Diesel engines are durable and will run for thousands of hours. An older diesel that has become inoperable usually needs only minor repairs to make it run again. As they say in North Florida, “It’s broke, but it ain’t busted.” In most cases, a diesel engine will last longer than your lifetime.

If a diesel engine fails to start the problem is usually: fuel, fuel, or fuel! There’s no electrical system needed for combustion; compression alone ignites the fuel. Make sure you have an in-line Racor-type filter to remove the water that invariably finds its way into fuel tanks. Fuel filters will remove trash that might clog injectors. Clean fuel burns clean, but a smoky diesel might very well run for years. If you’re relying on your bugout boat as a survival platform, in my opinion, diesel is the best option. 

Diesel Engines to Avoid:
Perkins: Parts are difficult to find
Volvo: Parts are very expensive
Detroit: High horsepower/high revolution engines
mean high fuel consumption & short time between rebuilds

Recommended Diesel Engines:
Caterpillar: I like the 3208 naturals (non-turbo) 
Cummins: Reliable, American-made
Lehman: Made by Ford; easy to work on
John Deere: A very dependable tractor engine
Kubota: Japanese tractor engine, also used in older Onan generators
Yanmar: Lightweight, popular as a replacement engine option

Some Unusual Diesel Engines: Lister, Gardner, Buda.
Lister: (Listeroid) This unique diesel engine has the ability to burn any type of oil including petroleum diesel, bio-diesel, or vegetable oil. Like Rudolph Diesel’s original engine, which was run on peanut oil, Lister engines can even run on used cooking oil! The Lister was the first “cold start” diesel engine, which could start up from compression alone, without the aid of a glowplug, hot bulb, or other heating system…no ignition system was needed. No longer made in England, “Listeroid” diesels are now made in China and India. Lack of quality control may be a problem.

Gardner: This reliable British-built diesel was manufactured for nearly one hundred years until production ceased in the late 1990s. Primarily used for commercial applications, it has the unique ability to operate with several of its cylinders manually closed down for fuel efficiency. It can also be started using an external compressed air tank or by hand-cranking. This diesel is often found in North Sea trawlers, (which make very nice live-aboard conversions.) These slow-turning diesels last for generations.

Buda:  Started in Illinois in 1881, the Buda Engine Company was later acquired by Allis-Chalmers and these engines are still used to power heavy construction equipment. The company also produced two- and four-cylinder models that were popular in Navy and Coast Guard lifeboats for their rugged dependability. They can be hand-cranked. Easily converted to live-aboards, lifeboats are another very affordable source of seaworthy bugout boats; if you find one with a Buda engine in it, you’re in luck!

In my next installment I’ll discuss water-makers, including a very affordable unit that you can build using the high-pressure pump from an off-the-shelf pressure washer.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Most Floridians really expect the hurricane season to be over as we approach Halloween, but memories are often short. Back in 2005, Hurricane Wilma made landfall in South Florida on Oct 19, and many in Broward County were caught by surprise when a Category 2 hurricane slipped in from the Everglades and devastated the infrastructure. After just four hours the storm passed, and astounded homeowners walked out into neighborhoods that looked like a war zone. The ubiquitous cement roof tiles which cover nearly every house had broken loose and flown like shrapnel, wreaking havoc on windows, glass doors and cars foolishly left outside. Flooded neighborhood streets were sealed off by fallen trees. Every street sign and stop sign had blown away. And then the sun broke through to reveal total chaos.

More than 30,000 power poles were snapped off and left most streets looking like a giant game of pick-up sticks. Many neighborhoods were without power for ten days. No gasoline was available because the service stations had no power to operate their pumps. That didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of motorists from flocking to the roads and creating the biggest traffic jams in recent history; almost every traffic light blew down and rude drivers refused to yield the right of way, until every intersection was so gridlocked that people just abandoned their cars and walked home. Ground transportation came to a halt. Trains stopped running. All the airports closed and the only air traffic was the helicopters, not FEMA or the National Guard…news helicopters. And they weren’t dropping relief supplies like in the aftermath of Katrina, but were shooting film for the evening news somewhere.

Predatory vendors filled rental trucks with generators, ice, and cans of gasoline from upstate, and set up shop in the parking lots of shopping centers. Grocery stores kept their doors locked and millions of dollars of perishable food was just allowed to rot. Most landline and cell phones were out of service. Cable television and internet service stopped. People had to listen to their car radios for news. The public water supply powered by backup diesel pumps continued, but many native Floridans warned newcomers that the water should be boiled before drinking. There was no police presence, but we could hear the continuous sound of distant sirens. When the sun set, without streetlights it was absolutely dark, and looters began to arrive. Some of us were ready. 

In my novel, Boca Chita. Prepare. Escape. Survive., I detail the steps I went through to prepare for just such an emergency and how I managed to make our family home safe and secure during this natural disaster. Preparedness is a process not an event! As soon as the storm had passed, I released my overhead garage door from its automatic opener and slid it up. Next, I carried my little 2kW Honda suitcase generator outside, fueled it up from my cache of five-gallon cans of gasoline, and fired it up. Within fifteen minutes I had my refrigerator, icemaker, fans, and lights operable. I wheeled my propane gas barbeque to the front driveway and made a pot of coffee on the side burner. I shut off the water service to the house and attached a garden hose to the drain on the water heater so that I’d have access to 40 gallons of fresh water. I borrowed a brand-new chainsaw from a clueless neighbor, and began clearing away the branches that blocked my driveway.

Shell-shocked neighbors began to gather to watch me. Many just sat in lawn-chairs in their driveways waiting for the insurance adjusters. Some were amazed I could open the garage door without power and get my Jeep out. Soon I had my little generator up and working. I used my 4-wheel drive Jeep and a chain to start moving the trees blocking the street, and my portable VHF radio like a cell phone to hail others on Channel 16. That night, a circle of neighbors sat in their lawn chairs in my driveway, illuminated by my portable floodlights while I cooked their rapidly defrosting frozen meats on my grill. We talked about what to do next.

The next morning I drove down to the marina in Key Biscayne where I kept my trawler to find total devastation! Twenty-eight of the sailboats in the mooring field had broken loose and were driven by the hurricane into our boats berthed on the floating docks. Of the twelve boats, ranging from 40-50 feet in the outside slips where I was docked, only four, including my trawler, were still afloat. The marina was nearly destroyed; floating docks capsized pulling many boats down with them as the tide surge swept in. I credited my trawler’s survival to 10% luck and 90% preparedness. My 1 ½" nylon “storm lines” were instrumental in holding my boat in place and my carefully placed fenders cushioned it from the concrete pilings. I talk at length in my book Boca Chita about why only the prepared will survive.

As I write this, Hurricane Sandy, now being billed by the frenzied media as the “Frankenstorm” is just off the coast and storm bands are whipping through the marina with winds sustained at fifty mph; the eye is right offshore now. Twelve- to fourteen-foot breakers are pounding the beaches, but I’m safe in my current bugout location. I’m one of the few liveaboards in the marina and am watching the damage being inflicted by this storm on boaters who have left their Bimini tops up, tied their million dollar yachts with 5/8" line, and skimped on placing fenders. Inflatable launches are dangling and plastic steps and buckets are sailing by in the storm-lashed seas. When the power goes out, I’ll fire up my diesel generator and settle in with a good book.

These natural disasters are only a test for what is inevitably going to happen. Are you prepared?