The cheapest way to add Wi-Fi to any camera (or your boat)

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When you’re boating or backpacking, it’s not so easy to just pull out your camera’s memory card and dump the photos onto a computer. Half the time I have the camera sealed in a dive case or wrapped up in plastic to protect it from the elements, and most of the time I don’t even have a computer with me.

When we were in the Spanish Virgin Islands I really appreciated the fact that my Sony had built-in Wi-Fi. I could climb back on the boat, towel off, then turn on the Wi-Fi to send all my snorkeling photos to my iPad for review without ever having to take the camera out of the dive case. I could then Instagram a good one and hop right back in the water to dive some more. I didn’t have to worry about unsealing and resealing the dive case, defogging the lens again, or any of that rigmarole.

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Unfortunately, not all cameras come with Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi SD cards have been around for a few years now and are getting better all the time. You might have heard of Eye-Fi. They were the pioneers of Wi-Fi SD cards, but an Eyefi Mobi Pro card still runs about $99. There’s also the Transcend Wi-Fi option.

I was almost ready to spend the money on an Eye-Fi when I came across the Toshiba Flashair. Apparently, the FlashAir has never been too popular, and the iPhone and Android apps were downright terrible when it first came out. However, a 32GB FlashAir SD card is now only $30 (I ordered mine on eBay). At that price, I decided to give it a try.

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Setup of the card was easy. You just pop it in the camera and download the free FlashAir app to your phone. Each time you launch it after the card has been formatted, it gives you the option to change the Wi-Fi name and password. This is a nice feature if you were shooting a professional event where lots of people might be using Wi-Fi, however, it has one major flaw. Every time you format the SD card in the camera, it resets the SSID and Password to the factory default. I might format the card three times a day when I’m working, so I gave up on setting a custom Wi-Fi name.

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Once the app is launched, your phone or tablet will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi generated by the SD card and allow you to browse the photos on the card. (I found Android devices are much faster at connecting than iOS devices, which sometimes need help finding the network.)

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Just select the photos you want to download to your phone, and it beams them right over. But here’s the cool part, the FlashAir app doesn’t just work for photos. It also does music and movie files, so you can use it in other devices like a Zoom recorder or a video camera.

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Perhaps you do have a computer, but you don’t have an SD card reader available, or maybe you just hate installing apps on your phone. If you connect the computer or a phone to the FlashAir Wi-Fi and then open the web browser, it reads the card in the web browser and lets you browse and download the photos that way as well.

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But wait, that’s not all! If you stick the FlashAir in an SD card reader, it still generates Wi-Fi. That means, if you need Wi-Fi on your boat, you could grab one of these FlashAir cards and a card reader, stick it in an SD slot on your chartplotter or even a 12 volt DC plug and suddenly have a portable Wi-Fi network for all the devices on your boat.

Now don’t get too excited. It won’t give you Internet, just a Wi-Fi network that allows all of your devices to connect to each other. For instance, if you have an AIS system that needs Wi-Fi to send info to your chartplotter, this $30 SD card will allow that. It can connect up to six devices. (However, if you do have an Internet connection, it also allows Internet pass through.)

So what’s the downside to a Wi-Fi SD card you ask? Well, although the transmitter has a very low power draw, it still drains the battery faster. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi like the Sony are able to turn it on and off to conserve battery, but with the FlashAir, from what I can tell the Wi-Fi is on all the time. However, in use I can’t say I’ve seen a noticeable change in battery life.

Yes, the FlashAir app does transfer RAW files. I shoot everything in RAW, but I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to transfer a 45 MB file over Wi-Fi. I shoot RAW + 1.2 MB JPG Small. The RAW is for my photo archives and for making prints. I download those files when I get home. The JPG small file saves space on the SD card and my phone or tablet but has plenty of resolution for social media. Here’s a few examples straight out of the camera via the FlashAir card.

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So there you have it, the Toshiba Flashair 3 Wi-Fi SD card, the $30 solution to adding Wi-Fi to any camera.

Want to see my G-string?

Any luthiers or guitar experts out there?

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I always keep a cheap guitar on the boat. I want it to sound decent, but if worse comes to worst, I don’t want to feel bad if I have to use it as a paddle.

My first boat guitar was an Epiphone Dove with a cracked neck that I procured for $30.

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A little wood glue, and it was a nice player for about a year. Then the same spot on the neck broke again, so I stripped it for hardware and junked the body.

My current guitar is an Epiphone AJ. It was a B stock guitar with a few blemishes that I picked up new for $89.

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For the past two years or so, it played and sounded great. Unfortunately it has suddenly started popping G-strings. The last two times I’ve played it the G string has broken at the saddle with less than two hours of use. Then tonight I swapped the strings again, and the G broke while I was just tuning it.

I use Elixir strings, so they don’t rust out in a week on the boat, but they’re about $15 a set. When the guitar is worth less than $100, even $15 is a large investment, especially if the strings are now only lasting for an hour or two of play time. They were previously lasting for up to six months of weekend jams.

My Gibson has a bone saddle, and I see lots of them available on eBay for anywhere from 99 cents to $20. But how do I know they’ll fit, and is a 99 cent bone saddle really any good? Should I search for a replacement nylon/plastic saddle? Should I gift this guitar to a starving artist and find another sub-$100 boat instrument?

Right now I have a B string replacing the G string, so that there’s less tension, but it makes the tone a little funny. Using two B strings is definitely not a long-term solution.

Come on guitar experts, I know you’re out there. What in the world is going on with my guitar and how do I fix it (cheaply)?

SVI Journal: Day 6, Tortuga Bay, Culebrita and Ensenada Honda, Culebra

One of my goals this trip was to catch the perfect tropical sunrise — except I snored right through it Friday morning in Bahia de Almodovar. However, when I finally got up and made some coffee, the view still wasn’t bad.

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My first task of the morning was to shake out my camera bag to see if I had any other spare SD cards on hand. I lucked out and found an old 4GB card in one of the pockets, so I had both cameras back in use for at least a day.

The next task on my list was to pull up the cabin sole in the starboard ama to find the air-conditioner raw water strainer. After a few minutes of searching I located it under the floor of the front cabin and opened it up. I’d never seen a basket that full of seaweed.

I dumped it all overboard and gave the basket a rinse, then put it back together. The HI PS code cleared, and we had air-conditioning on the starboard side again.

We’d been getting low on fresh water and had considered buying some in Esperanza, but it was decided to just conserve until we stopped in Dewey. That meant no more showers, so Mary set the standard for cleanliness with her patented floating noodle hair washing method.

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I noticed while snorkeling that morning that the starfish, which had been scattered all over the sandy bottom of the bay the night before, had disappeared. No idea where they went. I had no idea starfish moved around that much. Someone suggested that maybe they buried themselves in the sand, but I didn’t know they did that either.

Mid-morning we finally fired up the diesels and made the short motor across to Culebrita. Both catamarans had no trouble negotiating the mouth of Tortuga Bay, but the crew on the Jenneau didn’t like the way the cross current was pushing them around, so they turned back and picked up a mooring ball on the west side of the island.

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Tortuga Bay was beautiful. The turquoise water lapped up against a white sand beach while a mix of charter vessels, cruising sailboats, and local motorboats bobbed around on moorings or at anchor beneath the ancient lighthouse up on the hill.

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It was only a matter of minutes before the first green sea turtle was spotted swimming past Caicu, so we all hopped in the water to say, hello.

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We encountered at least four different green sea turtles (it’s kind of hard to tell them apart) while in Tortuga Bay, as well as two different sting rays shuffling about on the sandy bottom.

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I probably snorkeled with the sting rays a bit too long because when I got back to the boat I saw that everyone had already gone to shore to make the hike up to the lighthouse. At first I thought, no big deal, I was planning to swim in anyway. Then I realized that they had also taken my dry bag to get their shoes ashore for the hike. And yes, I offered the use of my dry bag — but my shoes, my camera, my shirt, and my water bottle that I had been planning to take in the dry bag were all still sitting in my cabin.

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I sucked it up and swam to shore doing the sidestroke with my dive camera dangling from my wrist while holding my shoes up out of the water. That was a much longer swim than I had expected, but I did make it to shore with dry shoes. Plus, I got to guilt trip Mary about taking my bag and leaving me stranded for the rest of the trip, so it was worth it.

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Culebrita has several trails and beaches to explore, but you definitely need shoes to hike them. The brush is prickly and there’s no shortage of cacti.

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Small lizards were running everywhere through the brush and we stumbled across a family of goats on our way to the lighthouse. We also saw what looked like deer droppings, but we never saw any actual deer.

The path up to the Culebrita lighthouse presents a couple nice views of the harbors on the north and west sides of the island. We could see where Chateau du Mer finally picked up a mooring ball as well as our own boats back in Tortuga Bay.

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Construction of the lighthouse began in 1882 and it was first lit in 1886. It was one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the US until it was closed in 1975. Currently, the lighthouse is in need of some serious restoration.

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Many of the walls have collapsed, as have the spiral stairs leading up the tower. The area around the lighthouse is also littered with junk. It was definitely worth the hike up the hill to see it, but don’t get your hopes up for some sort of restored historic building that you can tour. However, the view from the ridge is amazing. (My apologies for looking so haggard, shirtless and squinty. Someone took my dry bag without packing my shirt or sunglasses or sunscreen or water!)

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We heard more goats along the trail while we hiked back down to Tortuga Bay, and some members of our group who had lingered back a bit by themselves actually ran across a free goat sex show. Can’t say I was sorry to have missed that because after the hike, stepping back into the cool water felt amazing.

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Mary and I put both our shoes back in the dry bag and left it with crewmates to come back on the dinghy, then we swam back to Caicu.

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After the snorkeling, the swims, and the hike, we were all starving, so Mary cooked up some tacos for lunch, which were immediately devoured.

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Then we did some more snorkeling around the boat with turtles. I also came across a little trunkfish.

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We’d heard one of the best places to find spiny lobster was the reef just around the corner from Tortuga Bay, so several of us loaded up in a dink to head there while another group decided to go hike a few more trails and to check out The Baths.

The reef on the northwest corner of Culebrita was truly fantastic.

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Up to that point it was the best one I’d ever seen. There was also some old ship wreckage mixed in that had become part of the reef.

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I was very curious as to whether or not there was still wine in that bottle.

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As we were oooohhing and awwwing at all the fish, a huge, gray C-130 flew low over Culebrita and circled three times before heading out into the Atlantic. We later learned that the Puerto Rican Air National Guard maintains an entire fleet of C-130s to patrol the area and rescue sinking ships.

After a bit more snorkeling, I finally stumbled across a spiny lobster.

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It doesn’t really translate in the photo, but this lobster was huge. I would estimate the antennae to be three feet long (each, not combined), and it would have taken both of my hands to go around the lobster’s body.

Not a single one of us had ever actually grabbed a lobster before, so there was a lot of floating and staring at it before someone actually gave it a try. Nobody actually managed to grab it, which was probably good since it was as tall or taller than the bucket we had brought to put it in.

Defeated by the monster lobster and still needing to head back to Culebra before sunset, we decided to call it a day.

Meanwhile, Mary and Jayne were soaking in The Baths, which turned out to be pristine tidal pools on the other side of the island.

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We all rendezvoused at the catamarans and headed out to find a mooring in Ensenada Honda, Culebra — billed as the best hurricane hole in the Caribbean.

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As we neared the town of Dewey and civilization, we found the type of boats changed. We actually came across these two flamboyant houseboats in one mooring field.

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We also saw a homebuilt Piver trimaran, a small Gemini cat, and one 25′ sailboat that didn’t even have a mast moored right along all the hard core cruiser sailboats. It seemed living on the water was the cheap alternative in Culebra.

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The mooring fields were full in Ensenada Honda, so motored inward towards the municipal building.

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I’d like to say we were pros at anchoring by now, but as I was lowering the anchor using the remote control, it stuck. It just kept letting out chain. I vigorously tapped the remote with no result and finally pressed the “up” button, which promptly popped the breaker of the windlass.

Now we were stuck with the anchor half out and possibly dragging. I grabbed a winch handle and started trying to psych myself up for the job of having to crank in all that chain by hand while Andy went searching for the breaker box.

Thankfully Andy was able to reset the breaker, I let out some more chain, and we stopped dragging. Andy tried to dive the anchor to make sure it was ok, but the water was so dark we couldn’t see anything.

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Meanwhile Batubara and Chateau du Mer had arrived and dropped anchor as well. The first wave of crew headed to town to buy more booze and to scout the restaurants. The wind had picked up and our crappy dinghy motor made getting out of the shallows and away from the dinghy dock a real fiasco, so there was quite a delay working that situation out and getting the stupid outboard running again before we could go pick up the rest of the crew. (When chartering, never settle for a crappy outboard.)

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Once we were finally all ashore we took a nice walk through the streets of Dewey. While Esperanza had island dogs wandering the streets, Dewey had friendly cats that followed us for a bit before going back to lounging.

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The outstanding night spot seemed to be the Dinghy Dock Restaurant.

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They had tables dockside with lights under the water, illuminating the huge tarpon circling the area, waiting for someone to throw dinner scraps into the water. There was also a fishing bat that would occasionally swoop through and grab things out of the water. The food was great, and it was a really cool atmosphere.

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By the time we finished dinner, I could barely hold my head up. It had been an incredibly fun, but an incredibly long day. We walked back to the dinghy, climbed aboard Caicu, and went straight to bed.

But here’s one more sea turtle picture from our afternoon at Culebrita just because sea turtles are awesome.

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Fireworks Fridays at Kemah Boardwalk

People definitely have mixed opinions regarding Tilman Fertitta and his restaurant empire, which includes both the Kemah Boardwalk and the Pleasure Pier in Galveston. However, I can say this, he sure know how to put on a fireworks show.

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Every Friday night in June and July at 9:30 p.m. a barge anchors on the south side of the Kemah channel and sets off a 15-20 minute fireworks display while the boardwalk plays music.

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Of course, you don’t have to be at the boardwalk to enjoy the fireworks. The most spectacular way to view them is to anchor just on the north side of the channel across from the barge. There’s nothing like floating there, sitting on the bow, with huge fireworks exploding in the sky over you while also reflecting up from the water.

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The only problem with watching fireworks from a boat is that you can’t get good photos. Luckily, we still have a great view of the fireworks from our marina. This week we took it easy, cracked open a cold one and watched with friends from the dock.

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There’s three days left this year to see the fireworks, July 17, July 24 and July 31. Hopefully we’ll be watching from the water.

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Up in the trees

While walking the dogs this weekend we heard quite the racket coming from the trees around the marina. There was an incessant chorus of what I guess I’d describe as a croak-squawk mixed with regular squawks and a bunch of wing-flapping and branch rustling. We had to go investigate.BlackCrownedNightHeron01

Black crowned night herons were everywhere in the trees, and as we stared harder, we discovered the source of the croak-squawking.

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Nests with very large baby black crowned night herons were everywhere. Most nests had two chicks, and some trees had up to four nests. They were all demanding to be fed while their parents hopped from branch to branch nearby, nervously wondering what we were doing under the trees.

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It was hard to capture a good photo due to all the leaves and branches, but the chicks seemed comically large for the size of the nests.

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When we walked back by on Sunday, we actually saw the adults starting to coax the chicks out of the nest for their first flying lessons. Of course, not all of them looked happy about being evicted.

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I’m sure that in another week or two we’ll see these little guys balancing on dock lines and grabbing fish out of the water, just like their parents.

How to avoid boating tickets this holiday weekend

The first warm-weather long holiday weekend of the year is upon us. The lakes and bays are going to be absolutely packed with people who have not operated their boats since the fall.

“You know what, Cousin Grandpa … we should take the boat out!”

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This influx of boating activity also brings heightened activity by the US Coast Guard, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, the Seabrook Police Department, and any other government body in the area with boats and ticket writing authority.

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Expect to see up to six boats from various departments patrolling the no-wake zone of the Kemah channel initiating stops for the following:

  • Boaters exceeding the 5 mph no-wake zone speed limit
  • Boat drivers with a visible open container
  • Drunk drivers
  • Expired registration tags
  • Incorrect bow light placement (Red goes to port!)

Usually if you have remedied the above bullets, you can avoid being stopped, but I’m no stranger to boardings. During my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat class we were stopped, boarded and the instructor was ticketed by Texas Parks and Wildlife for having an expired registration sticker. Then, the next July 4th when I finally had the Seahorse running, I was boarded by the Coast Guard because my bow light lens was on upside down. (Oops!) Thankfully they just let me switch the lens around and sent me on my way.

However, once you’ve been boarded you will definitely get a complete Vessel Safety Check. Expect the officers to go through your boat from top to bottom to make sure you are meeting the minimum safety requirements.

Here is the checklist they use to perform vessel safety inspections.

If the checklist is too hard to understand, you can try this online Virtual Vessel Examiner to see if you meet the standards.

In the Kemah area it seems like the checks focus on lifejackets, a throwable PFD, a horn, a first aid kit, making sure flares and fire extinguishers have not expired, the pollution/no discharge placards, and making sure your holding tank through hull is locked or wired shut.

Give your vessel a check before you hit the water this weekend and save yourself the hassle of being boarded and hopefully save yourself the cost of a ticket if you are.

And remember, getting a ticket sucks, but the guys out on patrol are not the enemy. They are the ones coming to save your ass when something like this occurs.

Port St. Joe: St Joseph Peninsula State Park

We had one Saturday scheduled in Florida, so we decided to spend it exploring St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is consistently rated one of the best beaches in not only Florida, but the nation. Much more sunscreen was applied.

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The park is at the end of the St. Joe peninsula and has the larger gulf waves lapping on the west side, and the calm clear waters of St Joseph Bay on the east. The drive from St Joe was around 35 minutes. According to their site, the state park boasts 9.5 miles of “snow-white” sand beaches and “aqua-blue” waters.

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Entry to the park was a mere $6 per vehicle, but there are no dogs allowed, so our new friend Turtle had to stay home and catch up on his reading.

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The park also has 119 campsites for those that want to hang out longer for some serious fishing, kayaking or SUP.

The gulf had more beach, bigger waves and got deep quickly, which made swimming much more fun that it was at Salinas Park. Everyone spent lots of time in the water, which was also more clear than the water at Salinas Park, but still not quite clear enough to get a good underwater selfie.

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As we sat and stared out into the blue, I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. I finally grabbed the camera and stared at a couple of holes in the sand for the better part of 5 minutes. Then I finally saw this little guy flicking sand around cleaning out his burrow.

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These things are called ghost crabs, and once I saw the first crab, I started noticing them all over the beach. They’re pretty shy, but if you sit quietly for a few minutes, they’ll pop up to say, hello.

After several hours of playing in the surf, we began digging around and playing in the sand. There is something about pointless, mindless physical labor that is so relaxing. So naturally after digging what was a pretty impressive sand hole, we decided to bury two people in it, and make them into mermaids.

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After quite a bit more goofing off we decided to wander over and check out the bay. The water on this side was shallow for hundreds of feet out and totally clear. However, if you plan to venture into it, I highly recommend wearing shoes of some sort because it was teaming with crabs and spiky anemones.

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After exploring the area, we grabbed an empty shell and walked back to our chairs. As we packed up the car, we got a surprise when a crab made an appearance from the “empty” shell, demanding we put him (or her) back into the bay. We set the crab free and headed back to Port St. Joe.

Saturday Morning Sunrise

For the first time in forever, we finally had a weekend of nothing but sun. Not that I mind the rain, but it was nice to be able to open all the hatches and just enjoy the spring air. I couldn’t resist getting up early Saturday morning to sip some coffee and watch the sunrise.

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Momma duck brought all the babies by to say, hello as they started their morning routine.

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And even this sleepy head got out of bed earlier than usual for a walk around the marina.

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Planning the Spanish Virgin Islands

In June we’ll be making our first big trip of the year, flying from Houston to Puerto Rico, then spending a week on a Lagoon Catamaran exploring the Spanish Virgin Islands.

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We were invited on the trip by friends we made crewing in the Icicle Series Regatta — yet another reason why it pays to spend some time crewing on different boats and meeting new people in the sailing community.

While it’s too early to know what the weather will be doing in June, we have started mapping out our planned destinations and creating an ambitious but tentative itinerary. I wasn’t familiar with the SVIs, so I spent today mapping it out to better understand the trip.

Now to do some research on all of the things to see and do in these locations!

Cleaning up the beach in Galveston

The past few weeks have brought plenty of rain to the Houston area. I mean, I’m very glad we aren’t having another drought, but the rain and storms are getting a bit excessive. I wouldn’t mind a few weeks with no rain.

Saturday I was supposed to be riding my bicycle from Houston to La Grange for the first leg of the 2015 BP MS 150, but the fairgrounds in La Grange were flooded, so the first day of the event was canceled. Instead we headed to the boat where we spent Friday night rocking and rolling with lightning flashing all around us. These two were not happy with the situation.

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Eventually, the storm passed, we all lived, and Saturday was much nicer. We headed to Galveston Island State Park for the spring 2015 Adopt-a-Beach clean-up.

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While others in the group grabbed the large pieces of trash and walked on, Mary and I really focused on collecting all of the small plastic we could find. Turtles and birds often eat the colorful plastic that they mistake for fish or balloons and plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish. Mary found three balloons and patted herself on the back for saving three sea turtles. Of course, I pointed out that hypothetically the same sea turtle could have eaten all three balloons, and then she’d just have saved one turtle. She said saving the same turtle three times still counts as three saves.

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Sadly, I’ve never seen a sea turtle in the Galveston area, but supposedly we still have a few that come ashore to nest each year.

Representatives from Texas Parks & Wildlife were taking samples of the tiny fish in the surf. I was surprised how many they pulled in since you don’t ever notice those fish in the water while swimming.

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The planned picnic afterwards was a bit of a bust. Did I mention that we’ve had a lot of rain here?

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I know it wasn’t much, but hopefully those few hours we spent picking up trash made at least a little bit of an impact for the better.