This week our family decided to postpone the cruise until next season – possibly late May or June 2014. There was too much work to try to finish as the weather is turning progressively worse into Autumn.


Boat updates will continue!


Hamming it Up

I just received my amateur radio callsign and licence!

Ham radio licence

Ham radio licence, slightly redacted

There is a fixed amount of radio spectrum that is allocated to different purposes in different countries. Certain “bands” have been allocated to amateur radio enthusiasts, or “hams”, to experiment and research new radio technology and create emergency disaster communication links. There are several radio-to-email services for boaters but it requires a radio licence.

In Canada, there are two multiple-choice tests: Basic with 100 questions and Advanced with 50, and both require 70% to pass. In addition, you can complete a morse code test, creating 4 types of certification: Basic, Basic with Morse, Basic with Honours, and Advanced.

In Canada, the Basic certification provides access only to VHF and UHF bands, while the other certifications permit access to HF. VHF and UHF are line-of-sight communication and you cannot usually talk much further than tens of kilometers (there are repeater networks to increase your range, where an automated base station relays communications. Vancouver Island even has a sophisticated “trunk” to relay messages over 400 km!).

Vancouver Island Trunk Network

After a crash-course in studying manuals from RAC I wrote both tests (no Morse code for me). I didn’t pass the Advanced, but my high Basic mark permits me the Honours certification. I now have access to the HF band! This is the truly interesting and complex part of radio as it allows worldwide communication if conditions are just right. You can talk several thousand kilometers with the power of a flashlight!

Since getting my licence I strung up some speaker wire into a tree and sent an email 60 km.  There is much more to this world of radio, and I will post more details as I learn.

Why Sail?

I recently returned to Canada after working in Namibia, one of the least-densely populated and driest countries in the world. I didn’t sail during my time in Southern Africa; in fact, I don’t think I’ve been on a sailboat for 3 years! Why would I suddenly commit to cruising through the Pacific?

Well, I was refreshed in the awe and joy of sailing last week when some good friends invited me for a day of sailing. We had a blast zooming around the harbour on Lasers and a Hobie Cat; these are speedy, agile, wet & wild sailing boats for 1 or 2 people. If you lose focus in stronger winds they do not forgive you!

As soon as the breeze hit my sail, my memories kicked in and soon enough I was back in the groove of trimming the sails, gybing, reaching, getting out of irons, sailing rudderless, going on trapeze, and sometimes even avoiding luffing***. There’s a thrill when a gust of wind fills the sails and accelerates silently without an engine. There’s a freedom in choosing a route on the ocean with no established roads or paths.

For me, the best part is feeling a connection to several thousand years of sailing history in every corner of the world. Our society is based around connecting communities via water, and only in the last century have we preferred steam and diesel to the wind. There is a feeling of awe and magic every time I hoist a sail.

*** If you’re not a sailor the terminology is pretty wacky. But don’t worry! It only takes a few afternoons of fumbling around before anyone can learn to sail.