October 26, 2014

Marina Life, Again!

We are in Marina Portimao, Portugal for almost 4 weeks now. Back from a beautiful summer sail along the Portuguese and a tiny part of the Spanish coastline. 

Ikoko in Marina de Portimao
It is a bit sad to see all the other boats leave for either Madeira, Morocco or the Canary Islands. Just now another boat left for Madeira, aiming to cross the Atlantic towards the Islands in December.

There is this thing in Marinas that you always have those who are stuck and will never leave again. There are a lot here as well in Portimao. I don't think it is a bad thing, but we don't want to be one of them. In fact we would leave today if we were able to leave. In theory Ikoko would be ready to continue its journey... but we are not because we ran out of money.

All that we earned this year went in Ikoko. We repaired a lot around the engine (shaft, shaftbreak, electrics, bits and pieces), also we added an arch to Ikoko to carry our two solar panels (works great :-)), we had to buy a new anchor windlass, a new chain and accomplished other little projects in and outside the boat. There is more cosmetics work to do next spring. The teakdeck needs some attention and so does the paint. We want to improve the running rigging set-up and add some hardware to get everything more organized on deck and in the cockpit. In total we are calculating 10 k EUR on the lower end and 20 k on the upper end, depending on how fancy we want to have everything.

The new solar panel arch on Ikoko

Marina Life:

The first week I (Kosta) was kind of depressed to be here and knowing that I will stay here for the next many months. The situation improved a bit by now. The weather is still awesome, we have a lot of friends in the Marina and outside the Marina and there is always something to do. Stefanie has her first paid project, which will buy us food and one or the other lunch, dinner or coffee :-). I am currently working on two projects with a Portuguese friend and I have hopes that early next year we can earn some money from it.

What are we doing the whole day? We wake up at around 7. As soon as Teddy, who sleeps in the salon hears us moving, he is standing in front of our bed waiting to be hugged. Kind of sweet and it puts a smile on our faces. One of us is taking Teddy for a walk. I recently installed one of those apps that would record your walking speed and the track. Believe it or not... before breakfast and coffee we are generally walking more than 2 km with Teddy.

Teddy is a pretty happy dog

After breakfast we usually bring us up to date in terms of Emails and news. Sometimes we start some cleaning chores like washing dishes or collecting Teddyhair from all over the place. At around 9 or 10 we both start working until 1 or 2 pm. Then it is lunch time. We love to cook, so this is always a highlight of the day. Then working again... later in the afternoon we have some tea and before dinner we take Teddy to the beach or in the fields near the Marina.

Typical lunch or dinner on Ikoko

This is only sort of a routine because during the week we also have meetings in town or go shopping, or do nothing. You get the idea. No pressure here on Ikoko.

Well, this pretty much sums up our life right now. More in a couple of days.

All the best from Kosta, Stefanie (and Teddy).

September 25, 2014

ONWA Chart Plotter KP-8299

I have barely seen a cruising sailboat without a chart plotter these days. Most of them have them as a piece of hardware similar to a gps device in a car, chart software on a tablet and/or phone or on a computer (openCPN for example). Ikoko carries paper charts as well but we don't really use them anymore. At least when coastal cruising. 

Before we started our journey last year I was in the market for a chart plotter as well. I wanted one with a built-in AIS transceiver. I didn't like the idea to have a separate AIS unit to connect with a chart plotter, have more cables, more installation... you get the idea. Unfortunately I only found two manufacturers offering such devices. 

I bought a Chinese product from a well-reputed company called ONWA. I wrote a post about this experience: http://goo.gl/CvcIgb.

more pictures at the end of this post. This pic shows the chart view on the Onwa Plotter

Unfortunately I bought the unit from a dealership in HongKong called Huayang Technology. In the beginning I was surprised about the level of service during the buying process. A couple of weeks later I had the chart plotter sent over to Europe without any problems. A couple of months later I installed the plotter on Ikoko. No problems here either. The installation was a breeze. GPS antenna, VHF antenna and power was all I needed to connect the unit. After 3 hours all worked perfectly. 

Just about when we left from The Netherlands heading south through the English Channel the Plotter gave up and broke. When switching the unit on I only got a black screen. I exchanged many Emails with Huayang and suddenly the service level dropped significantly. After I tried to update the plotter with new firmware, which Huayang sent to me after 10 weeks (finally - hurrah - but nothing worked), they went silent and I didn't hear back from them for months. I dropped them Emails every other week, telling them how upset I was and that I will write all about my experience on our blog, go to the press etc. 

Finally they came back to me and asked me to send the plotter to them for repairs. This was in December last year. I paid an awful lot of money for the parcel to China. 3 month later I got a call from the Marina office that there was a parcel waiting for me at the post office to be picked up from somewhere outside of Europe. Guess what. Huayang never tried to pick up the plotter from customs. I was sooooo angry.... I dropped them another Email but never heard anything back. 

ONWA and AVES Marine - the good guys

Just when I was ready to bury the plotter deep in a bilge, I received an Email from Alan. Alan is from the UK, a sailor and a Stories from a Boat blog reader. He was also in the market for a plotter and showed some interest in ONWA .... asking me about my experiences. Over the last year we occasionally exchanged Emails. 

In spring this year he dropped me an Email, telling me that he is opening up a dealership for ONWA in the UK. His company is called AVES Marine and they sell the whole ONWA range of products. 

Did I mention that ONWA is a cool company? My bad experiences are only with Huayang (the HongKong Distributor). ONWA is a professionally managed company with awesome and reasonable priced products. They get the job done and this is what I like. No fancy touch and what have you. 

Anyways. Alan asked me to give him some more information about my experience with Huayang. I forwarded him all of the Emails that went back and forth, which he discussed with ONWA in China. Apparently Huayang was known for a bad service level and they threw them out as an official distributor this year (if they ever were an official distributor). 

ONWA and Alan (with AVES Marine) offered me to send my plotter to them for repairs. The next day I dropped the parcel at the local post office and was crossing my fingers. 

What followed then was a great experience and shows how ONWA and AVES Marina are caring for their customers. Alan dropped me an Email once he received the plotter. He also told me that during the shipping the cover of the plotter broke and that there would be some scratches. He even attached pictures for proof. 

Here is the Email communication around the repairs of our plotter:

June, 9th: 
Hi Kosta,
Received your plotter today. Unfortunately it suffered minor damage in the post, nothing serious so no real problem; I have attached some images to show the damage. There are some marks to the corners of the case and the sun cover has a piece broken off in one corner. 
I have replaced the screen but this isn't the problem so it suggests the main pcb may be faulty. I have mailed Kenny at Onwa to explain what I have done today. Interesting is the brighter area in the centre of the screen (see image) this may mean something to the Onwa experts....
 I thanked Alan for his prompt answer....

June, 10th:
Hi Kosta,
Progress: Kenny (remark: Kenny is from ONWA) is going to send me a new main pcb for your plotter and I have also asked him if he can include a new sun-cover to replace the one broken in transit..
Let you know once I have the new pcb.

Isn't this great service. I quite like it to be informed as a customer....

June 16th:

Hi Kosta,
New pcb for your plotter has been shipped today.
Will write again once I have it.


June 25th:

Hi Kosta,
Good news for you - your plotter is all up and running and ready to be returned; can you let me have your address so that I can get it sent off to you?
Kenny @ Onwa has supplied the part free of charge and threw in a new sun cover to replace your damaged one as well. I think this was a really good gesture from Kenny as although your warranty from Huayang was technically valid, as we both know they had no intention of honoring it. Kenny might have taken the attitude that it was bought from an unauthorized supplier so tough but he didn't which I think demonstrates his commitment to customer support......

YESSSS. Thank you Alan, thank you Kenny. I think this is awesome customer support. Try this with Raymarine or Garmin or any of the other big shots.

If you are in the market for Chart Plotters, Radar, Depth Sounders, Fish Finders.... make sure to check out AVES Marine. The prices of the ONWA products are very interesting and before you buy a multi-thousand EUR/USD touch and remote controlled piece of fragile art from the known manufacturers, with features you will never need when cruising... go to ONWA and AVES Marine. This will save you a lot of money and with their service commitment you will be on the save side as well. 

Now here are some images when I got the plotter back from Alan. Everything works, I am happy and now I am going to install our ONWA plotter again. One last remark. You see some strange patterns on the images. This is not what you see in real and only because of my camera and the flashlight. In fact, the display is bright, crisp and clear. 

September 23, 2014

Wrap up of our summer

We are enjoying life at anchor in Culatra. The sun is shining again after a refreshing downpour of rain this very early morning.

It was still dark outside this morning when I felt a couple of drops on my face which fell down through the hatch above me. We don’t even think about our next actions anymore. One of us is wandering through the boat almost remote-controlled, closing hatches, putting everything under the sprayhood which is exposed to rain in the cockpit and goes back to bed again. Even Teddy is too sleepy as to follow us around. A big yawning is all I get and back he goes to the land of dreams.

We usually wake up when the sun peeks over the horizon. Teddy is standing in the salon watching us in anticipation, his head slightly tilted to the side as if he wanted to say: ‘Get up you guys, it’s a beautiful morning… I want to go to the beach NOW.’ As soon as I (Kosta) step out of the bed he is jumping towards me with joy, making me smile while I cuddle him.

I soon find myself playing with him at the beach.. usually for half an hour. When we return to Ikoko, Stefanie already put the kettle on the stove and a smell of coffee drifts from the galley out in the cockpit.

One single thing holds me back from coffee: Teddy who wants his “body-rub” with a particular towel on the foredeck of Ikoko. It is just amazing how he starts communicating with us. If we say: ‘lift your paw…” he does exactly that and we can clean him thoroughly. He is watching either of us and when we give the command for the next leg he is lifting the next one. He really enjoys the morning ritual and so do we.

Over coffee and tea (for Stefanie) we read the news (yes, we have internet aboard :-)) and discuss one or the other topic. Around ten we usually start to work. Either on the boat, mostly cleaning away Teddy-hair and for real. The kind of work which fills the cruising kitty again some day, hopefully.

Here are some impressions from the village of Culatra, where we anchored the last couple of weeks:

What were we up to this summer? We received quite a lot of Emails and messages lately whether we are still alive or if we discontinued this blog.

Yes, we are still alive and no, we won't discontinue this blog. Sometimes it is really hard to be creative and write up new stories. It is a lot of work and one blog post usually requires us to sit down, concentrate and write, edit, select pictures for at least half a day. Not very easy when the sun is shining outside and the beaches are waiting.

Our summer really started at the beginning of July when we left for a 4 week road trip through Portugal, Spain, France, Andorra and Italy. In May and June we mainly worked on our boat while we rented an apartment to have more space to throw things around on Ikoko.

What did we achieve? We now have a re-built engine, a new prop-shaft (the old one was bent) and a hydraulic shaft break. We also have a furling cutter staysail, a new anchor windlass (the old one didn't work anymore...). A new chain, as the one we bought last year for our old anchor windlass wasn't calibrated... so didn't fit on the new windlass. And we did what felt like a thousand smaller projects. We will write about this two-month work experience in another post next week.

Our holidays started in July. We had a fantastic road-trip. We slept in a tent the first night in the middle of Andalucia (Southern Spain), we visited cities like Zaragoza, Sevilla, Cordoba, went up to Andorra, which is a little 'country' between Spain and France, went to Marseille in Southern France to meet with our friends from the sv Nikita and continued on to Monaco and further on home to Northern Italy, where we spent over a week. On our way back we had my (Kosta's) mother on board (our car and boat) and went straight over to the French Atlantic coast to Bordeaux, where we met friends who run a little wine chateau. 2 nights with uber-amazing food and wines. We went straight through Spain and crossed the Portuguese border slightly above Lisbon and followed the road along the Atlantic ocean back to Portimao.

After the last bits and pieces on Ikoko (antifouling, etc.) we splashed her and went sailing. OMG, this was the best feeling ever. The waves, wind, blue ocean, sun and the piece of mind. After 7 hours we dropped our anchor near Culatra Island which is close to the Spanish border but still in Portugal. The next days we sailed on to Spain, up a river and had the most fantastic time with my Mom. After she was gone we stayed in Culatra for quite some time. Friends were visiting and life was as good as it can get.

Soon we will be back in Portimao Marina to spend the winter. We are slowly running out of money and need to find work to fill up our cruising kitty. Also there are some more projects coming up on Ikoko. We decided on staying in the region until we have her ready to cross oceans. The berth we reserved is booked for 9 months. I am not sure I like this, but there are worse places to work.

That's it in a nutshell. Next week we will start to write some more stories about our summer. :-)

Greetings from Portugal. Kosta & Stefanie.

May 14, 2014

Life Treats Us Good In Portugal!

Rather than writing long stories, we thought we could give you an impression of the last three weeks through pictures. Our first attempt on this blog to include an album. Just click on the first picture and view/read the story. Have fun:


All the best from Kosta, Stefanie and Teddy.

April 30, 2014

The Farting SeaDog

We didn't write anything on this blog for two months now, even though a lot of things happened and kept us busy. Unfortunately those things didn't have to do anything with sailing and exactly this is why we thought we take a break from writing. 

We are still in Portugal and Ikoko is happily swinging in her box in the Marina of Portimao. Our life is almost normal now. We work (don't like it), we meet with friends (wonderful) and we explore the area. In the meantime the not so good weather of the last three months turned to be splendid. High temperatures during the day with a little breeze and cool during the nights to get a good rest. Our dress-code is back to Flip Flops, T-Shirt and Shorts. Life is good. 

Exploring the beaches of the Portuguese West Coast

At the beginning of our two months break on updating this blog we had a reason. Our farting seadog Teddy. He thought he had to wake up every night at around 3 to go for a walk. Big business was the program and either Stefanie or I were trotting through the marina with a flashlight (to detect the bombs) and a bucket with brush to wash them away. We did all this, because we thought ... well, it is like it is - better outside than in the boat. One thing lead to another and we introduced a nap time after lunch, which stirred up our whole day routine. Man, we were really "pooped". In the meantime a little routine set in and we only have to wake up at 6ish in the morning to go empty Teddy. 

I am hungry?

Speaking of Teddy: We love our little farting machine and are beyond happy that he is with us. Sometimes he is driving us crazy, but only sometimes. Teddy has a become a "socially responsible" part of this family and is doing absolutely great on the boat. He has a great character and you can see that there is a lot more potential to be uncovered in the future. Well, anyone would say this about their dog, right? :-)

Playing and feeling happy after lunch

Teddy loves to play (even though is doesn't understand the concept of catching a ball). Most of the times he playing with things that are not labeled "Teddy Toy", though. When it is hot during the day he loves to hang out lazily on the bathing platform, the cockpit floor, or underneath our table in the salon. Fortunately he is living on the floor and is not climbing the settee or even our bed. During the night the salon is his bedroom and he stays there once we say "bedtime" to him (us retiring in the fore-peak). He also does a couple of commands by now. He "sits" when we say "sit" and sometimes he lays down when we say "sit", which he shouldn't. But at least he is doing something. And if he is really awake he is giving us a "high-five" as well. 

Swimming is one of his favorite things. Usually, when we are coming back from somewhere, he is pacing back to the gate of the marina, us panting after him. Most of the times we are not fast enough and he starts climbing down the rocks to swim back to the boat. At least he knows which one belongs to him. Good thing. 

Some tiny problems are still left. We still don't know what happened to him in the first 6 month of his life. He is very frightened of other people, men in particular. He doesn't like bicycles, and kids with surfboards. The first 4 weeks we couldn't even think of going out with him of the fenced Marina area. The whole dog was a shaking picture of misery. In the meantime we can go out with him without any problems. Well, the "going out" bit is still a challenge, but once he is out and we are walking him he is doing fine (not great). The worst thing for us is the barking. Every stranger who is passing the boat gets a sensational barking show and at the beach he is sometimes chasing away people even in 200 meters distance. Sometimes he behaves great and sometimes you can literally see that something clicks in his brain and starts his show. Maybe it is our own nervousness. 

Enough from Teddy for now. 

Southern West Coast of Portugal

Now, what did we do over the last weeks? As mentioned in the beginning of the blog, we have a pretty normal life at these days. We work during the day, which is pretty cool. Sitting on a boat with your computer and earn money is way better than doing it from the desk in an office. On the other hand this is a real limitation on our adventurous life. We do things over the weekend usually. Not much of a difference to a normal life on land. We found some good friends outside of the sailing community. On Easter Sunday we went to a friends farm and grilled a lamb, which was absolutely great and we eat for several hours. One other night we found ourselves sitting underneath a baldachin on a long table. This table was full of friendly and chatty people. The setting was awesome. A house 200 meters away from the beach, lots of food, music, wine, stars above us and the sound of breaking waves from the beach. And sometimes you can find us in one of the cafes in Portimao, while shopping for groceries. When walking with Teddy on the beach we usually rest at "Farols" Restaurant, which is directly on the beach and we have a coffee or wine, depending on the time of the day. We also explored the region quite a bit. Great beaches on the westcoast and lovely little villages in the mountains more inland. Whereas the touristy part of Portimao isn't all that nice... the rest of region is absolutely stunning and so are the people. 

Beach in Portimao

At the end of this week our Ikoko will be lifted on the dry dock. We have to do some major repairs on the drive shaft (I don't want to go into details here) and work on a long list of other things. Mainly boat improvement things. Because of that and because of Teddy we rented a little apartment at the beach a couple of miles away from the Marina. We just don't know if we like this or not. Living off the boat that is. Strange feeling. 

Trip to Monchique. Really "chique" this little village.

Wonderful path with a spring water near Monchique

However... the apartment is really nice. Not "nice" in terms of furniture, which is more Southern-European practical style, but very clean. We like the area though. It is a house at the beach and and very lovely (older) couple is living there with two dogs. They have a little apartment on the first floor, overlooking the ocean, which will be ours for the next weeks. The plot is really extensive and reaches almost 200 meters right down to the beach. Great for Teddy as we can take him to the beach every day. This couple welcomed us with open arms and the day we looked at the apartment was a very long one as we celebrated (I don't know what) and eat and drink till late in the night. I the meantime we are part of their extended family and friends. It is a great and welcoming atmosphere there. "Open House" would probably describe it best. 

Not so welcoming is the distance to the boat. About 4 miles according to Google Maps. Naturally we started thinking about transport. Shall we rent a car for two month, or even buy one? We even thought about buying a scooter. Well, in the end we were too avaricious and bought a bicycle. A mountain bike that is. Nothing fancy, just a bigger bike compared to our foldable ones. I couldn't imagine myself to cover 10 miles each day (to the boat and back) on one of those small ones. Now we have three bikes on Ikoko. :-). 

In March we celebrated our birthdays. One of them very quiet...

... and the other one with a lot of people (20) on board of IKOKO. 

The next two month (May and June) will be full of work. Work on the boat, work to earn more money and work on another project.

This Friday it will be IKOKO hanging in there to get lifted on land. Hopefully everything will go alright. 

If everything goes according to plan, we want to spend July doing our road-trip through Southern Europe. From Portugal through Spain and France to Italy and maybe even Germany. We will pick-up Kosta's mother in Italy and drive all the way back to Portugal and go sailing with her for two weeks. She has never been on Ikoko and is very excited to experience this lifestyle. 

More friends will be coming in August and September, so we will be living off the grid from August through to October. We already know what we will do after October, but will write about it when the time is right. 

All the best from
Stefanie, Kosta & Teddy

See you!

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