A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Preparation update

A couple of weeks ago, Maritime NZ notified us that our NZ registration was approved and a couple of days later we received the certificate – all laminated and formal for “Loopy Kiwi” - NZ1844, which we are required to keep on the boat at all times. During the application process, I did find out that we could not have registered her in the USA anyway as… (quote):

The Ship Registration Act 1992 requires the following ships to be registered:

  • All New Zealand-owned ships over 24 metres register length (with certain exceptions)
  • All New Zealand-owned ships making overseas voyages whatever their size.  This applies whether the ship leaves from a New Zealand Port or a foreign port. ….(unquote)

Take note potential Kiwi Loopers!

Clearly we were always obliged to register her as a New Zealand ship – ain’t it great when you’re right (even for the wrong reasons)? We are also required to fly either the NZ flag or the NZ “red ensign” (but not both) from dawn till dusk, so the one off Kindred Spirit will be travelling over with us. The dinghy is also part of the NZ registration, unlike in the USA where dinghies have to have separate registration.

The other thing I have wondered about for some time is how we go about getting a VHF radio callsign in the USA. Well…. apparently they don’t have them over there so I don’t know how you distinguish between several boats with the same name. So we will just use our New Zealand registration number as a callsign until we bring her home to NZ where we’ll get a proper one.

We are starting to sell off some of the “stuff” that we don’t want sitting around while looping. Since we will no longer be sending the dinghy and outboard across to the USA as Loopy Kiwi already has them, they went into TradeMe (NZ version of EBay) and sold very quickly. It was probably just as well as I think the EPA issue with the 2 stroke outboard was going to be a real problem trying to import it into the US – and I never did get an answer from Mercury about it!

I have also been researching installation of an inverter and have pretty well settled on a 3000W US made one. I found very good information on the web regarding compliance with USCG and American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) regulations which show installation requirements similar to NZ and to which the system I installed on Kindred Spirit complies. So I have been able to start drawing up schematics for the installation so we can get it done as early as possible when we return to the US.

However, I was surprised (again) at how the Silverton 453’s DC electrical system is set up. It took me a while to glean the info out of Silverton’s Customer Service Dept (Gee it’s frustrating to not be able to just go down to the boat and take a look!!!!), but there is no separation between start and house batteries on the engines. She has 6 batteries for the engines (plus one for the genset) and apparently they are ganged together in 2 banks of 3 per engine. The danger of this system is, of course, that you can run your batteries flat (or one “bad” battery can pull the rest of the bank down) and you can’t start that engine. There is a solenoid that you can use to parallel up the bank from the other engine, but if its batteries have gone flat as well…….
I guess that’s when you kick in the genset and wait till they’ve charged up enough to start at least one engine, but it’s all a bit foreign to traditional thinking regarding DC power on cruising boats.

I also worked out that our target date of the 16th June would have us relaunching the boat on a Sunday, so we’ve pegged it back to the 15th so now one day less to go. We have also had our first visitors’ “booking” (2 in fact). Our friends from Kerikeri, Charlie and Pauline, are going to be the first dropping in to see us in July on their way back from visiting relo’s all round the world. They will stay with us 3 weeks during our shakedown cruising around Lake Michigan. They will head home in August and then local friends Dennis and Kathy will arrive….and all this before we actually start Looping!

184 days to go.

P.S. Remember this????

its the little gizmo for helping you stay in the channels that I mentioned in my May posting and it is called a Marker Minder. They go for about $8-$10 and you can find them at http://www.boatersland..com/dei96103f.html (thanks Bert)

Monday, 7 November 2011

Interesting things about American boats.

I’ve already mentioned in previous posts things like their being poorly equipped with ground tackle and not many with dinghies. Although Urban Legend has a dinghy, she was the ONLY boat among the 24 that I looked at that did. This is largely due to the fact that very little anchoring out takes place over there and most boats simply go from marina to marina – thus making those two items often superfluous.

For this reason also, all of the boats that I viewed were “all electric” (cooking, heating, hot water etc) which, I guess is understandable considering the above. However I did find it rather strange that not one of the boats I looked at had a water heater that ran off the engine as well as electricity, despite the fact that about half of them had water heaters with heat exchangers fitted that made them capable of doing so. According to the survey report and the original equipment list for her that I got from Silverton, Urban Legend’s water heater is a model that is supposed to be fitted with a heat exchanger, but I could have sworn that I checked it out, and it was not! Mind you, the heater is in a totally different place to where it states it is in the manual, and where all the other Silverton 453’s heaters were – so who knows? Ironically also in the manual is a section on “15 ways to lower your fuel consumption” and number 15 is: “use less hot water so you don’t have to run the genset so often!”

But now, for all my fellow Kiwi boaties, how weird is this……..?????

All of the refrigeration (fridge, freezer, icemaker) on a Silverton 453 is 120VAC and will only run off the shore power or genset. That means for the 6 hours a day that we would be running the main engines on the Loop, or if we’re swinging on the anchor, the generator has to run just to keep those appliances going (unless we buy a really long power cord!). It’s true – I checked with Silverton!
I think we will be fitting a12VDC/120VAC inverter fairly promptly, as this doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

And before anyone asks…. Engine driven eutectic refrigeration, commonplace on boats in New Zealand, just doesn’t exist over there.

Still – no point in stressing about it. That’s just how it is and we now own one so will have to make do or change it to more like what we’re used to when we get there. There will be other things that we will need to do that are yet un-thought of….but that’s boating. After all, there is no such thing as the Perfect Boat (for Looping or anything else, for that matter).

Catch you next time (220 days to go)

Monday, 10 October 2011

A boat, a starting point, and a DATE

We paid the last of the money last week and Urban Legend is ours. Having said that, we are already underway with Maritime New Zealand to have her registered under a new name, which we were able to reserve for a month after we got back from the USA. When we get the USCG de-registration documents from our friendly yacht broker, John Niemann of Harborside Yacht Center, Milwaukee (a plug for you there John), she will be officially renamed……..

yes, you got it……LOOPY KIWI. 

Of course she will remain unofficially “Urban Legend” until we get someone to remove the old name and redo the new one. I believe we are also supposed to go through some kind of renaming ceremony as well to ensure we don’t have bad luck.

So there it is, we have the boat (Urban Legend/Loopy Kiwi), we have the starting point (Milwaukee), so all we needed next was the date. This was decided as 16th June 2012 (no particular reason – but it is a Saturday!) and will be the target date for our arrival at Milwaukee to begin preparations for shaking down and provisioning for the Great Loop. We will probably cruise around Lake Michigan for 2 months or so and depart down the river system from Chicago in August. According to our insurance policy we must remain north of 31 degrees North (about 30 miles upriver from Mobile Alabama) until the 15th November. This will give us plenty of time to check out places like Pickwick Lake before heading down to cross the Gulf of Mexico to Florida where we will lay the boat up and come home for Christmas. Here is a roughed out map of stage 1 of our Loop until we reach Florida and return to New Zealand. (remember - click on the map to make it bigger then use the white cross in the RH top corner to get back here)

Presuming that we want to continue after the “taste test” (yeah right!), here is a map showing possible places and times that we will be targeting after we return to the USA in March 2013. It is based on a previous Looper’s journey so don’t take the times or places too literally, but for those who plan to join us on stage 2, it will give an idea of the timeframe for the particular section of the Loop that you may want to join us for.

 248 days to go, but who’s counting!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 26 September 2011

And the winner is………..

Carolyn arrived on time on Friday night (16th September) and in relatively good condition after 18 hours in the air from New Zealand to Chicago (via San Francisco). We got up early on Saturday and headed up to Kenosha to see the first Silverton 453 “Urban Legend”, which was also the very first boat I had looked at some three weeks before.

Then it was down to Dolton to see the Carver 466 “Epiphany”, before heading across Michigan towards Lake St Clair. We stopped for the night in a wee town off the I-94 called Paw Paw (yes….really!) and on Sunday continued to Harrison Township, where we met up with Hilary and Bert in the afternoon. They had shifted their Silverton 453 from the marina they were in to a heated indoor dock where their slip happened to be 2 down from the Silverton 43 we were due to see on Monday.

This boat, “More Graphic Gratification” was a lovely example of the model, with a custom hardtop which made it quite unusual. The owner took us out on the Lake for a run, but had an overheating issue on one engine which made us get back a bit late in making our next appointment in Catawba Island that day. This boat was the other Silverton 453 “Moor Fun” and, while she was a bit older than Urban Legend, there was a significant price difference. Unfortunately it was raining and we were tired and grumpy and it was getting late and we were told we were not going to be allowed a sea trial, so we didn’t give her much attention that day. It also became clear to us that we were running very short of time to make a decision before heading for home on Friday.

The next day (Tuesday) we saw the last of the finalists, the Cruisers 455, for which a sea trial had been arranged. Unfortunately Carolyn disliked the boat as soon as she stepped aboard, so it was pointless to pursue that one any further. Instead we went and had another look at Moor Fun and got estimates on equipment and repairs that would bring it up to a similar standard as the other 453. However we were still refused a sea trial without an offer to purchase being made, and we wanted to see Urban Legend again (on which the broker had arranged a pre-offer sea trial) before deciding. So…back to Wisconsin we headed, staying in Michigan City, Indiana, that night and finally finishing up in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. This is where Urban Legend was going to be brought to the next day for her winter storage.

We were taken down to Kenosha on Thursday (the day before leaving for LA) and had the sea trial back up to Milwaukee. Urban Legend went very well during the 2 hour trip and we got to play with all the toys with which she is so well equipped. And yes…..you guessed it…..she came out the winner. By 4.30pm the deal was done and UL was lifted out of the water and put away in her heated shed to wait for us to come back and start the Loop next year.

From the first time I saw her almost 4 weeks (and 3618 miles and 8 states) before, she had set the standard for the rest, and nothing bettered her. The Silverton 453 is a spacious, gracious boat and this one is a stunning example. (mind you I have to say that now, don’t I?)  The deal is still subject to a favourable survey, which I arranged prior to departing the USA on saturday, but I would be very surprised if anything bad turns up – I was fairly thorough in my own examination of the boat and it was useful having the input of people like Hilary and Bert, who know their 453 inside out.

She comes with all the usual standard features on this model, but for those who hadn’t looked her up on the yachtworld website, here are some of the additional bits n pieces she has.

10’ Zodiac inflatable with davits and 6 HP Mercury 4 stroke outboard (the ONLY boat I looked at that had a dinghy!)
Twin 480 HP Volvo electronic diesel engines
Auto Oil change system
13kW Genset
Double hard top (flybridge and Sundeck) with new plastic clears on the flybridge and glass enclosures on the sundeck.
Fully airconditioned INCLUDING flybridge.and sundeck
Central Vac
Trash Compactor
Oven and 3 burner top
Convection Microwave
……and a bath

And this neat little remote control for the bow thruster and engines, so you can park the boat while standing on the landing board, if you want!

Carolyn reckoned that the broker and I looked like a couple of kids with a new toy at Christmas when we were having a play with it after the sea trial!!

Here are a few more pics:

Master stateroom

Just kidding....that was just a posh motel room I was put into in Minnesota. (The mattress was so thick that you had to climb a set of steps to get into the bed...........true!!! - look closely at the pic!) 

Here is the real master stateroom - no steps but still pretty posh though

                           Galley and dinette                                   3rd Guest stateroom

                      2nd Guest stateroom                               Door to engine room

In the water, Kenosha 

                 Out of the water, Milwaukee             Transom with dink and outboard

Me and John, the broker

There are some things that have to be done to bring her up to how we want to use her. She is poorly equipped with ground tackle, (but then most of the boats I looked at are. They don’t use anchors like we do over here – if they use them at all!)  The 35lb Delta anchor will be replaced with a 45-50lb and the 6ft of chain and 100ft of warp will be replaced with 200ft of all chain. That way we may be able to sleep nights while anchored.

We arrived  back at home in New Zealand at 6.30 this morning, picked up Woody from the farm,  and I'm knocking this out so I don't have to tell all the interested parties one at a time. As far as the trip was concerned, I guess we can put it down as "Mission Accomplished".


I wrote the draft of this posting last night on Ms Word and am posting it today. This morning, the Surveyor rang (3.00pm Milwaukee time) to say he had completed the survey and only found 4 tiny items that warrant attention - which I can do myself when we return to the USA. He is an ex Silverton engineer and described Urban Legend as the best example of a 453 that he has ever surveyed. We are looking forward to his full report, but I guess we can take it from him that she's worth buying!

Friday, 16 September 2011

More on boat buying

I thought I should make at least one posting while in the USA on the buying expedition, and I shall do it now before the final decision is made. I left New Zealand at 9.30pm on Tuesday the 30th August  and arrived in Los Angeles at 3.10pm on Tuesday the 30th August. An overnight stay there then a 3 hour flight to Chicago the next day, arriving 2.00pm when I picked up a rental car.

The next day, jet-lagged to bits, I drove to the first appointment in Kenosha WI to see the first of the 37 boats on the shopping list. It was 37 degrees C (96F) and humid, so I was really feeling like crawling round in bilges of boats. On arrival, my first reaction was: “OMG, they are sooooo big – what in god’s name are we looking at boats this size for?” The first contender was a Silverton 453 and when we finally got aboard…..WOW!!!! So big and so posh. An hour or so later, and off I went to see the next one, a Carver 444 which had been high on the ”probable” list. Very nice boat….but soooo small (ain’t it funny how your perceptions change!). I was supposed to see 2 more that day, but the jet-lag and Chicago traffic sent me scurrying back to my motel at 5.00pm to crash for the night. The next day I got to see the 2 Carver 466’s that I should have seen the day before and made contact with Donna and Alan Huber, who had just bought Alchemist, a Carver 466 and who treated me to a tutu in it round the Lake near Chicago, taking in the sights. The following day (Saturday) I took the day off, and was honoured to spend it with Donna and Alan – we went to lunch at Lowries for the best Prime Rib in Chicago and that night went to a Looper’s get-together at Ellen and Woody (same name as my dog!) Sutton’s condo in downtown Chicago. Alan and Donna kindly allowed my to stay on their boat, which was within walking distance of the party, so after a great feed of Chicago Pizza and special beef, and great conversation with Loopers (40 of them turned up), we retired early as Alan and Donna had to get up at 5.00am to take their boat to Seneca.

Donna and Alan.
Excuse the blurry photo, but it was a blurry morning!!

Alchemist heading for Seneca

So at 6.00am, off I went towards New Buffalo MI while they headed off into the Illinois river system. I looked at 2 more boats that day, after which everything turned to custard (refer previous post!) and arrangements with brokers to view boats began to fall apart. It WAS labour weekend, I guess, so I should have figured it could happen. So I gave it all away after those 2 boats and headed back to Chicago. The upside of the day was that by this time I was able to eliminate about  5 models of boat off my list which cut the number of boats to see back considerably. At this stage I had seen only 6 boats (7 including Alan & Donna’s) and had driven 566 miles. I spent the next day arranging appointments for the future viewings and canceling appointments for the boats I had eliminated as unsuitable. (While I had 37 boats on my original list, I also had 31 brokers to deal with!).

The day after labour day, I flew to Minneapolis to see a business colleague,,,,,and to see a couple of boats on the Mississippi. Over lunch with the business owner I had come to visit, and after telling him of our Loop plans, he told me he had just bought a Silverton 43 and asked if I would like to see it. Of course, I forced myself to look at yet another boat (although it was one of the models on my shopping list that I had not yet seen) and, of course, it was in beautiful, pristine condition. He then told me that it was a Bank repo, and how much he had paid for it. I won’t say how much that was, but suffice to say I would have paid that for it, sight unseen, and would happily buy it from him today for $50,000 more than he paid and still have a bargain. The next day, at 5.00am I flew back to Chicago, picked up another rental car, and began the “asphalt Loop”, arriving that night in Paducah, KY at 6.30pm. Over the next week I viewed 14 boats in Pickwick Lake MS, Nashville TN, Louiseville KY, Port Clinton/Catawba Island OH and Harrison Township MI.

Aqua Harbour, Pickwick Lake.
The white "Yank Tank" is what the rental car company gave me to drive!
Beaut day at Aqua

In Harrison Twp, I caught up with another AGLCA couple, Hilary and Bert Eisbrenner, with whom I had been corresponding prior to leaving NZ. They were new owners of a Silverton 453 (another shopping list model) and I was privileged to also enjoy their company and insight into buying and owning one of the favoured few boats left on my shopping list. I spent a relaxing day with them and got to spend the night on their boat, before driving back to Chicago in preparation for Carolyn’s arrival tonight. 

Hilary and the Leg Lamp

Hilary and Bert
By this time I had seen all the boats to see and the list was down to 5 finalists in either Lake Michigan or Lake Erie/Lake St Clair. The boats are:

1 x Carver 466
1 x Cruisers 455
1 x Silverton 43
2 x Silverton 453’s.

There is also a Meridian 459 down in the Ohio River that is worthy of a second look, but the price would have to be modified to make the extra travel worthwhile.

This road trip has been another 1850 miles on top of the earlier 566, and we still have around 780 miles to go to see the finalists (1040 if we go see the Meridian). However, if all goes to plan, we should have settled on a Loop boat by the time we leave the USA by the end of next week.

But we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men,,,,don’t we?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Plans and Custard

“The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglay”. The much mis-quoted line from Robbie Burns’ old Scottish poem, “Tae a moose” (To a mouse), which loosely translated means: “no matter how good your plan, it’ll often turn to custard!”

First the plan of sending the dinghy and 5HP Mercury outboard over to the USA as suggested in my last posting. I checked with US Customs and found no issues with the dinghy, just a 2.4% import duty to pay and a requirement to prove ownership. DO YOU THINK I CAN FIND THE ORIGINAL INVOICE!! I found the credit card receipt, an invoice for re-tubing my old dinghy which was done at the same time…but no document that said I own the new dinghy. I rang the manufacturer who told me that they had bought the Company just after I bought my dinghy and they would have to go through the old paper records to find an invoice. They sounded quite reluctant to do this, but a week later (bless their little cotton socks) they faxed me a copy of the errant document.

The outboard has a 1% duty and is required to meet US EPA emission standards. No probs – the manual that came with it says it does. It also says that the motor has a decal on it saying so. Nope….no decal. Also the manual was written in 2006 and it appears that in 2010 the EPA rules hardened up and, of course, my motor was manufactured in 2010. I have emailed Mercury in Australia and the USA and even sent the US a fax asking clarification but, surprise surprise, no answer from either. Probably not high on their priority list. It looks like the motor will have to stay here….I was wondering why there were no new 2 stroke outboards being sold in the USA – I suspect this is the reason. Still, an AGLCA member has advertised that he has a 4HP Mercury for sale and I may be able to catch up with him on my boat buying trip in September and buy it off him – so at least we’ll own a motor in the USA, if not a boat! – although what we will do with it until we arrive is another matter.

And speaking of the boat buying plan: In making the appointments with the brokers to see all of these prospective Loop boats, we eventually came to the conclusion that there were too many boats over too long a distance, and too little time. Since we don’t want to reduce the number of boats to look at, and can’t do anything about the distance, we had to increase the time. As all the flights were already booked for both of us, and rental cars and hotels also, we couldn’t add on to the end, so instead have brought forward my departure by 5 days. This brought additional airfare costs and cancellation costs for a hotel in LA, but gives me more breathing space for the boat viewing, particularly around Chicago. (although I am now going to be there over a holiday weekend – so I hope the boats will be available!) There is also a Looper get together in Chicago on that weekend, so I am going to attend that and I am hopeful of catching up with the AGLCA member with the outboard – so some dark clouds have silver linings.

On the subject of clouds – it snowed in Auckland yesterday. The first time in 70 years and the coldest day ever recorded here. So much for Global Warming!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Boat Buying

A couple of weeks ago I “hit the wall” regarding the Loop planning and it all started to get a bit daunting again. There is a lot to buying a boat anywhere and the plan to “go over and buy one next June” suddenly began to develop a lot of flaws. Firstly, there are just so many of them and they are so spread around except for the ones we thought we really wanted, like the Meridian 459 and Carver 444 of which there are very few and they are spread even further around. Then I came to the realisation that, in planning for the Loop, you have to have a starting point and a starting date – neither of which are possible until we have a boat ready and waiting. Finally (and I should have thought of this earlier) everyone in the Great Lakes region puts their boat away in a heated shed or wrapped up on the hard over winter because it freezes up there and they don’t go back into the water until after May. If we want to leave Chicago in August, and have a month or so to shake down the boat before we leave, that only gives us a month to find, and buy a suitable boat – and that just ain’t enough time!

So, it was time to revisit the whole boat buying plan and we began by widening the criteria for suitable boats. We wanted a cockpit, but there are only the 2 mentioned above that have them with the layout we want. Do away with the cockpit requirement and suddenly you have 14 to chose from. These are: 

Meridian 459 (cockpit) or 408
Carver 444CPMY (cockpit) or 396
Carver 456 and 466
Cruisers 4450/455, or 405/415
Silverton 43 and 453
Sea Ray 420AC
Maxum 41SCA.

The next thing was to look at the territory we had been searching. Canada, the NY river system, and the lower Mississippi became just too hard to manage, so we restricted it to just the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi and Tennessee/Ohio river areas. This brought up around 40 boats on our shopping list in an area that would require around 2000 miles of travel to see them all. We then started contacting the various brokers to ensure that the boats were still available (the vast majority were!) before making plans to travel to the USA and look at them before they all get shut away for the winter.

The upshot of all this is that I will leave NZ on the 4th September and fly to Minneapolis where I have some business to do (and there are a couple of boats to look at!) and then to Chicago. There I will pick up a rental car and drive down to Pickwick Lakes, Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, up to lake Eerie, Detroit and around Michigan before returning to Chicago. Below is a map of the area with driving distances (in miles) and where the various boats are. At this time I have 37 boats to look at in 8 days – although some of them may be dismissed beforehand once I see what the models are actually like. Carolyn will fly across to Chicago on the 16th, by which time I will have a short list of suitable boats for her to look at. We then have another 7 days to decide which ones we would consider making an offer on before we fly out on 23rd.

Once a purchase is finalised the boat can be stored away for the winter (although it probably already will be) and we will have a starting point and time to aim for. We will also know what is needed to provision her and, if necessary, can send a shipment of stuff from NZ rather than buying it all over there. eg only one of the boats on our shopping list has a dinghy, so I could ship my (deflated) RIB and brand new 5HP Mercury outboard over, rather than sell them here. We could then put a lot of other stuff in the crate to make it worthwhile. We can also get the New Zealand registration carried out while we are still here, which will be a lot easier than trying to do it by “remote control” from the USA.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Regulations, regulations, regulations

Go to the USA, buy a boat, cruise the Great Loop, then bring the boat home or leave it there for future visits. Simple huh! …..Yeah, right!!!

Going to the USA

New Zealand is one of the countries (and there are quite a few of them) where its nationals can visit the USA under the Visa Waiver Scheme (VWS). However, such visits are limited to 90 days duration and you cannot apply for any extension of stay if you have entered under the scheme. Furthermore (and this has caught a few of my countrymen and women out), the scheme ONLY applies to travel into the USA by commercial airline and or ship. You cannot use it if you arrive by any other means such as car, bus, private plane or BOAT (take note Loopers)!! Friends of ours flew to the US from NZ,  entering at Los Angeles under the VWS,  then flew to Alaska to join a cruise down the inside passage. They got off the ship in Vancouver and caught a bus to Seattle, Washington but were stopped at the border as they did not have Visas, and the VWS did not apply. They got in in the end, but after considerable delay and inconvenience.

Therefore, to stay any longer than 90 days, you have to have a Visa. While this is not too difficult to get in NZ provided you have a valid reason (such as cruising the Great Loop), it takes time and costs money. However, it is also important to know that having a Visa does not give you automatic right of entry to the USA, and that the decision to let you in, and for how long (usually 6 or 12 months), is made by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the point of entry. The CBP has a stated policy (check it out on their website) that all incoming visitors are considered as if they are intending to immigrate to the USA, and the burden of proof is with the visitor to demonstrate otherwise. So, no matter how tired or stressed out you are after  12 hours of flying to the USA, treat the man who looks at your passport at the airport counter with politeness and courtesy, as he gets to say whether you come into the country or catch the next plane out!

Then there’s buying a boat…….

There are lots of them there and some really good ones, but unlike here in NZ, even used boats incur a Sales Tax. There is no Federal Tax, each state (other than a few) has its own which applies when the boat is sold and registered. It would appear that one way of getting round the tax is to register the boat (or plane or car or truck) in a state that has little or no sales tax. Great idea!!! I bet no-one else thought of that!  Wrong,,,,,,,if you linger too long in another state that has the tax, you will be hit with a “user tax” that usually  happens to be the same as the original sales tax. So they’re not seen as being harsh, you will get a refund of the amount of tax you paid in your “home” state which of course is zilch if you didn’t pay any in the first place. If you find a state that has low sales tax and no user tax (like South Carolina), try leaving your boat there. Nope…. there you will get hit with a Property Tax. You could try outrunning them by not lingering, but you’ll always be looking over your shoulder for the IRS man with the clip-board, and I hear they don’t take prisoners. And by the way, dinghies have to have separate registration (and tax) to the mother vessel, as well!

So how about having the boat registered in your home country and cruising the USA under a foreign flag? Sounds simple enough and this question was posed to the AGLCA discussion forum a couple of months ago, so I watched and participated in the hope that it would solve the tax/registration problem for us. The response by the good hearted members of AGLCA was as contradictory and confusing as an earlier discussion on “the best way to legitimately avoid sales tax on a boat” had been. Just as confusing was the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website which seemed to indicate that you needed either an annual “user decal”, which cost $27.50 and you applied for on-line, or a “cruising permit” which you got at your first point of entry into the USA.
To end the confusion I emailed the DHS and got the response that, in fact, you had to have both. The decal is valid for a calendar year from 1 January to 31 December and once you have set up an on-line account you can get it renewed annually. They will send it to a US or overseas address. 
The cruising permit is issued by the CBP (who are part of the DHS) at your first port of call in the USA and is valid for 1 year. However non residents cannot get a new permit unless the vessel has been out of US waters to another country for at least 15 days and you have the documentation to prove it. There is also a requirement that you have to report to a CBP officer at every port of call within the USA and have the necessary proof of doing so (such as a log book entry with the officers name etc)
Several AGLCA members suggested I buy a book “Smuggling your Boat out of Jail”, which I did. The only actual advice it gave was don’t get your boat into jail in the first place, but it was full of useful reference material. The result is that I will register the boat as a New Zealand ship and sail under the NZ flag, despite all the rigmarole over decals, permits etc. To do this requires a few hundred dollars and a bit of paperwork which all must be done in NZ and, of course, a boat.
Watch this space…

If you want to cruise in Canada for more than 45 days, you need to have a document that proves competency to skipper a vessel. As you don’t need anything like that here, all I have is 35 years of boating experience, so I sat a NASBLA approved on-line boating course through BoatUS and passed with 89% score (80% was required) and I now have a certificate to prove I’m competent.
You also have to have a Restricted Radio Operators Licence in Canada and fortunately I have one of those issued by the New Zealand Post Office dated 2nd February 1979.

An interesting thing about getting the NASBLA certificate was that, although I registered with my NZ address, it was necessary to fill the box that denoted which US state I lived in to accept my registration for the course. So now the Certificate says that it is for the “State Test: Illinois” and that I live in Hobsonville, Auckland. Illinois.

One of the frustrations about the planning so far is not having a US address and as we will be cruising around the USA on the boat, we never will. I’m told to expect to have problems with all sorts of thing like insurances, cellphones, internet accounts etc, where everything seems to revolve around “zip codes”.

Oh well, life was not meant to be easy.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Navigating the USA

I always knew it was a different system of buoyaging in the USA, and I used to find it disconcerting when we sailed out of (or into) US ports during cruises that the buoys were on the “wrong side” of the ship. Over there the rule is “red, right, returning” (to the harbour), whereas here it is “there is no red port left in the bottle”, or (how I remember it) “we are right out of red port”. Then, passing through the Panama Canal, I couldn’t figure out the buoyaging at all! I won’t go into detail – you can look it up yourself – but, suffice to say that the Americas, Japan, Korea and the Philippines operate a different (and opposite) system to the rest of the world. So to do the Loop, we have to unlearn all our local knowledge and adapt to the US system.

If only it was that easy -  because, as it turns out, there is another system operating for the Intra Costal Waterway (ICW) and yet another for the Western inland waterways (Lakes and rivers).

In a previous posting, I mentioned a Kiwi who had done the Loop and brought his boat back home. Well, we managed to track him down (I will refer to him as Capt Pete) and we have had several visits and chances to admire his Meridian 459 (which is why we are keen on getting one). One of the things he warned us of was the lack of reference in many of the Waterway Guides and books about the Loop to the variances in the buoyaging systems, particularly when the ICW crosses conventional shipping channels. I have obtained the recommended guides from the USA and I must admit that, while there is some info about buoyaging in them, they do not really explain well the relationship between the systems. Capt Pete said he ran aground 4 times because of this confusion, until someone gave him the little gizmo in the pic below, after which he never grounded again.

This gizmo sticks to the helm dashboard, and when you go through the first set of buoys in a new system, you set the red and green caps to match the buoys and then use it for the rest of that waterway to tell you which side of the markers you should pass. Simple, huh! If anyone knows where I can get one from, please let me know (otherwise I will make one before we go).

I also found a US Coast Guard website that had a very good powerpoint presentation on it about buoyaging in all these areas. Some parts were still a little unclear so I have doctored it so I can understand it better based on information on other sites on the net. I don’t know how to put a powerpoint presentation on this blog, but can email it to anyone who wants it if they let me know. 

There is also a system of sound signals on the rivers that you need to know and adhere to because of the large amount and size of commercial barges using them. They consist of whistle or horn signals, or are spoken over the VHF radio with the number of the blasts or whistles being the side on which you should pass etc. ie 1 = port, 2 = stbd, or when all else fails 3 = going astern. It has been suggested that we have a label at the helm to remind us what these signals mean as getting it wrong could be disastrous. See more on: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_2_blasts_of_a_horn_on_a_boat_mean#ixzz1M087spmh

You can also get this information if you do a Safe Boating Course with someone like BoatUS. You can do this online for free at www.boatus.org/onlinecourse and at the end (providing you pass the final exam) you get a Certificate that says it is recognised by the US Coast Guard and should be enough to satisfy the Canadian requirements for proof of competence...... which is necessary if you wish to stay in Canada for more that 45 consecutive days. Just take note that when you enrole, although it will accept an overseas address, you have to declare that you live in one of the US States as the Certificate relates back to that State and some of the course content and exam questions reflect that States laws. I chose Illinois (and the Certificate I got says that I reside in Auckland, IL)......... but any State will do.

We should have some interesting moments on this voyage.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

W.O.W (What of Woody)?

So, “what about Woody then” I hear some more of you say. “Are you going to take him with you?”.

At first we thought that this was the thing to do. We checked out the rules to take him into USA and found that it was pretty easy as New Zealand is considered a Rabies-free country. However bringing him home is an entirely different story. He would have to be checked and certified by a Vet before departure as being free from Rabies and other exotic dog diseases, then he would have to be transported in a brand new purpose built cage which does not allow anyone to come in contact with him and from which he cannot be released until arrival. On arrival he must be re-inspected by a Vet before entry to NZ is allowed and then he would be quarantined for 30 days, which could be extended to 180 days if MAF sees fit. If there is any concern over his health or even if the required paperwork is not in order, MAF have the right to destroy him without consultation.

Then there is the travel itself. Woody would not like being cooped up for upwards of 24 hours will travelling alone in the strange environment of an airplane hold. And, although he loves boating with us (except when it's very rough), we would not like to think of him becoming alligator tucker, or being bitten by a snake, while having his morning ablutions on the landing board.

Looking at the list of “fors” and “againsts”, the againsts far outweighed the only “for” which was to have our good mate and faithful companion with us, which would be pretty selfish.

So "what of Woody"? He’s going to stay with Aunty Lyn on the family farm at Wharehine on the Kaipara Harbour. She looked after him when we went on a North Pacific cruise last year and he had a ball. There are lots of animals to play with and plenty of relo’s with kids to keep him company. Last time he became great mates with a family of piglets who were all about his size.

There are some other people who have offered to look after him as well, and Lyn can use them if she wants to go away for a while, particularly when she and her friend Lois come to the USA to do part of the Loop with us. They’re considering the New York Canal segment which we should be doing around June-July 2013.

Just a bit about Woody now: He is a Swedish Vallhund (Val for short), and will be 3 years old in August. His full name is Vallarity Norwegian Wood and was one of a litter of 9 to Vallarity Kennels in Tirau NZ. Vals are an ancient Viking breed – go to www.svclub.org.nz to read more about them – and are very much the “pocket sized wolf” that they look like. Very intelligent, obedient and loyal.

                                                                8 weeks old
Woody's first dinghy ride

Puppy Woody with Aunty Lyn,  Lois and Mummy 

We’re going to miss him to bits while we are away, but he is better off with Aunty Lyn than being put through the stress of travel and the risks involved in taking him with us and bringing him home again.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Great Plan

The timing to do the Loop is quite specific. If you look at the map on the previous post, you do the green bits in the spring, the orange bits in the summer and the purple bits during autumn (fall) and winter. Constraints are: the Great Lakes freeze in winter and thaw in spring which floods the rivers so you don’t want to be up there either of those times. The Hurricane season is from July to December 1st so you don’t want to be in the Gulf of Mexico or Florida then. The time you start is generally governed by where you start from, but because of these constraints, Loopers are usually travelling “loosely together”, so they apparently tend to meet up a lot.

Therefore our plan is as follows:

Next year, around June(ish), we will buy a boat somewhere around the Great Lakes area, which will probably mean a special trip to the USA and back specifically for the purpose. I favour buying in the Lakes area is because I would prefer a freshwater use boat and that is also where you start the Loop at that time of year. The boat we are looking for will be twin cabin with ensuite in each, separated by the saloon (salon in the USA). It will have twin engines for redundancy, preferably Cummins (despite what has happened with Kindred Spirit’s Cummins VT555 I still like the Cummins B series) and a layout that has stairs, not ladders as the first mate isn’t keen on them any more. And I have been instructed that she wants something newer and a "bit posh". We are presently looking at Meridian 459’s (surprise, surprise) and Carver 444CMY’s that fit the bill. If you want, check them out on www.yachtworld.com, but this what a Meridian 459 looks like and the Carver 444 is remarkably similar: 

And inside


 VIP (guest) stateroom:

Master stateroom: 

Salon entertainment centre: 



Yes, even a washing machine/dryer: 

Sundeck and Wet Bar: 

Sundeck seating

Engine room: 

Doesn’t that all sound sooooo easy ……… It isn’t!!!!

We would then go over again to pick up the boat and have a couple of weeks shakedown cruising to get used to her and provision her up for the trip. We plan to leave Chicago in August, heading down the Illinois river to St Louis before joining the Ohio and Cumberland rivers and into the Tenn-Tom (Tennessee/Tombigbee) Waterway to MobileAlabama. Remember we are not supposed to get to the Gulf of Mexico before 1st December as it is the Hurricane season and you can’t get insurance. We will then cruise the ICW to Florida and cross the Gulf (the only stretch of unenclosed water) to Tarpon Springs (180-odd miles) then down the Florida Coast to the Okeechobee Waterway which crosses Florida about two thirds of the way down. We will then put the boat on the hard at a place called Indiantown and fly home for Christmas. This will give us an idea of whether we like the boat and the lifestyle.

Assuming we do, we will return to Florida in March 2013 and resume our adventure, cruising the ICW up the coasts of FloridaGeorgia, South and North CarolinaVirginia, across the Chesapeake to Maryland and New Jersey and into New York. Then up the Hudson and into the Eerie Canal system to Oswego on Lake Ontario. Across into Canada, then up the St Lawrence seaway to Montreal and back down to Lake Ontario via Ottawa and the Rideau Canal system. We originally planned to go from New York straight up to Montreal via the Champlain and Richelieu Canal system, but if we buy a Meridian or Carver, we will be too tall to go under one of the bridges, so we have to go the long way round.
From there we cross through to Georgian Bay, via the Trent-Severn Canal system, up Lake Huron to the North Channel and back into the USA via Lake Michigan down to Chicago. And here we will have completed the Loop, or “crossed our wake” as Loopers put it.
But that’s not all, because then we will go back down the river system to Mobile again (we were going to go down the Mississippi to New Orleans the second time, but everyone says that it is not a good idea – no fuel stops apparently). Then round Florida’s “Panhandle” to Carabelle and via “the big bend” across the Gulf of Mexico (only 60 miles of open water this way) and right down the Gulf coast of Florida to the Keys. Finally up the Atlantic coast of Florida to somewhere where we either sell the boat, ship it home, or leave it there for future visits. By this time it will be March 2014 and time to go home.

So, there you have it.