Picture This: Haulout Blues

Haulout Blues (Photo by K. Walters)

Though below me I feel no motion
Standing on these mountains and plains
Far away from the rolling ocean
Still my dry land heart can say
I've been sailing all my life now
Never harbor nor port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the Earth is my blue boat home

(Lyrics from Blue Boat Home by Peter Mayer)

Gear Review: Pelican 20QT Elite Cooler

As sailors, many of us are acutely attuned to energy conservation while onboard and away from the dock. In other words, we don't like running a generator or our engine to recharge batteries just to keep the refrigerator going if we can help it. And even if that's not your mentality, I'm sure you could still use some extra cold storage space as provided by quality cooler.

This summer, we used Pelican's 20 quart Elite Cooler at the dock, on the dinghy and while sailing/cruising on a routine basis. This is one well-built and tough cooler. You'll get your first clue about those attributes when you pick it up because it's heavier (16 lbs empty) than you might expect for it's relatively modest dimensions. In fact, it weighs much more than standard Igloo and Coleman coolers that have twice the capacity and a quarter of the price. The benefit is that Pelican Elite coolers can stand up to harsh treatment and easily serve double duty as a bench/seat.

But why are they so heavy? First, the polyethylene they're made from is a dense material. Second, the side walls are thick and heavily insulated. Third, the hardware is almost all quality stainless steel instead of flimsy plastic. That all adds up to a cooler that gets the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee's "bear resistant certification". Yes, that's right...this cooler has been intensely impact and penetration tested by captive grizzlies. And the press & pull latch makes opening it tricky for ursine paws and claws.

The thick side walls, heavy insulation and lid with gasket all also help these coolers maintain maximum ice retention. Pelican claims "up to 10 days" but my own use of the 20qt version puts that figure at a more realistic 24 hours in normal summer use. If we packed the cooler in the morning with ice and beverages, about 1/3 of that ice still remained 24 hours later on most summer days here in the Great Lakes. I'd love to have 10 days of ice retention, but even 24 hours is an improvement over our previous coolers. To be fair, we would like get better ice retention if we pre-chilled the Pelican Elite by bringing it into air conditioning and loading it with ice the night before use. Also note, the 20qt version that we have is the smallest available, so larger capacity Pelican coolers will likely have better ice retention.

This cooler has a few other features I really like. For example, the built-in bottle opener and integrated cup holders on the lid are not novel ideas, but they are immensely practical. I also like that the flip-up handle on the top locks the cooler lid you don't have to worry about spilling when you pick it up. The thick rubber feet on the bottom four corners prevent the cooler from sliding around, particularly when we have the cooler functioning as a middle seat in the dinghy.

What don't I like? I really wish this cooler had a drain, even though Pelican's literature says to resist dumping water because it acts as additional insulation and blocks airflow. As I said, these are heavy coolers and flipping them over for draining isn't as practical as a drain hole would be, particularly if the cooler is full of beverages and other perishables that you don't want to spill or unload.

So what's the bottom line from SFLF on Pelican Elite Coolers? If ice retention and portability (i.e. lightweight) are your priorities, do some comparison shopping first. But if you want the best built, toughest coolers we've ever encountered with above average ice retention, these are a safe bet. Yes, this cooler is expensive at more than $250, but it's likely the last 20 quart cooler you'll ever purchase. Remember, Pelican guarantees them for life against breakage and defects in workmanship.

Dimensions for the Pelican Elite Cooler 20 Quart
exterior: 20.12" x 15.07" x 14.12"
interior: 14.75" x 10.00" x 8.75" (0.75 cubic feet)

The Secret to Having it All

"The secret to having it all is knowing that you already do."

Is it really that simple? I suppose it very well could be. The catch to that fun little statement is that it requires a commitment to contentment. I love a good quote (as you can tell from the intro's to the majority of the posts on SailFarLiveFree), but this one challenges me deeply. There are moments when I let my guard down and realize that all I need is already right there in my grasp. But then there are other moments when I'm conflicted by my dreams, my desires, my possessions and the knowledge (false?) that I lack some things. Sometimes I feel like I lack physical possessions, but there's a lot I'm still striving for emotionally and spiritually too. If I'm totally honest, I'm not convinced that I already have it all. Which is probably why I don't. This is all very circular!

This is having it all, right?

So without getting too metaphysical, I thought I'd put together a list of quotes claiming to contain the secret to life/happiness and simply let you be challenged. Does any of this relate to sailing? For me, the answer is a resounding "yes" since sailing seems to be a metaphor for happiness in my own life. For you? You'll have to decide.

"The secret to happiness is freedom. And the secret to freedom is courage."

"The secret to happiness is to do what you like. The secret to success is to like what you do."

"It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy."

"The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything."

"The secret to a happier life is to learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty."

"Be with someone that makes you happy."

"The secret of life in two words: Resist nothing. Accept reality (it already happened!) and move on with you day."

So what's your secret to life? Share it below in the comments.

Sailing Product Preview: Renogy Lycan Powerbox

"Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow." - William Pollard

I'm a bit paranoid about power on our sailboat. We've got 3 group 24 12 volt deep cycle batteries, a quality high-output alternator and a variety of solar panels (2x 7w, 1x 14w, etc.) but we still don't run the refrigerator unless the engine is running and we're without AC accessories (such as fans) when we're away from the dock cruising. The options for alleviating these woes for sailors have traditionally been bigger solar panels (100w+), noisy wind generators, towable hydrogenerators and gas powered portable generators such as the Honda eu2000i.

Now it appears there's going to be another option that provides much of a gasoline powered generator's benefits without the noise, pollution and necessity to carry a highly flammable and explosion fuel to keep it powered. Renogy has been running an Indiegogo campaign (very successfully, I might add) to fund development and production of the Lycan Powerbox, a portable solar storage solution that should be an attractive consideration for cruising sailors.

So what exactly is the Lycan Powerbox? Picture a 18" x 10" x 13" box on wheels with output ports (2 x 12V DC, 3 x 110V AC, 3 x 2.4A USB, 1 x 1A USB) to handle just about any device or appliance you're likely to have onboard. While it does weigh 60 lbs, that's still comparable to the 45lbs dry weight of the Honda mentioned above and the size makes it just about perfect for storage in cockpit lazarettes. The Lycan Powerbox can be charged via a solar panel, a 12V socket or AC wall outlet. Charge times are: ~9 hours w/ 100W solar, ~3 hours w/ 300W solar and 7.5 hours w/ AC power. Interchangeable lithium-ion phosphate batteries with a lifespan of over 2000 cycles make it all work. Supposedly, you simply plug in and the Lycan does the rest.

The best part for sailing and boating? The Lycan Powerbox is waterproof so it should handle life on deck. It's also silent and emissions free so you won't be the boat that spoils a peaceful anchorage for your neighbors.

There's still time to get in on the Indiegogo pre-sales. The Lycan Powerbox alone is $1099, while it can be bundled with a 100W solar suitcase and charge controller for $1499. I haven't tried the Lycan for myself, but I'm hoping to get one for testing in August and will have a full review at that time. Stay tuned!

See more in this YouTube video:

Sirius Signal SOS Distress Light Review

Spring commissioning always involves taking inventory of spare parts, gear and safety equipment to make sure we're prepared for the season ahead. Invariably, it feels like our flares are expired every spring, though in reality I believe they have a shelf life of about 3 years. When they are truly expired, I'm always at loss for how to properly and safely dispose of them. Replacing them requires a $40 purchase. These are minor hassles for the inherent safety (and USCG compliance) that carrying the flares onboard provide.

But have you read the what the USCG says about electronic alternatives?

From Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 175.130:
Any of the following signals, when carried in the number required, can be used to meet the requirements of 175.110:
1) An electric distress light meeting the standards of 46 CFR 161.013. One is required to meet the night only requirement.
2) An orange flag meeting the standards of 46 CFR 160.072. One is required to meet the day only requirement.

From Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart 161.013:
Electric S-O-S Distress Light: This is an alternative to flares for recreational boats. It is required to automatically flash S-O-S. Light intensity and duration requirements apply. Electric S-O-S distress lights are self-certified by the manufacturer. The Coast Guard does not issue approvals or keep an authenticated list of manufacturers. Approval standards for these are found in Title 46, Subpart 161.013.

The folks at Sirius Signal have a "Why didn't I think of that" alternative that meets the above requirements and it's called the SOS Distress Light (exclusively manufactured and distributed by Weems & Plath). According to Sirius Signal, this is the first and only LED visual distress signal device that meets USCG requirements to completely replace traditional pyrotechnic flares. This is good news because the SOS Distress Light never expires (battery changes keep it fresh) and therefore no flare disposal challenges are encountered.

So what exactly is the SOS Distress Light? Well, it's essentially a floating LED light on a handle that flashes the SOS light sequence. Turning it on is as simple as twisting the lens on top to activate the extremely bright LED with visibility for up to 10 nautical miles. It also comes with the orange signal flag from CFR 175.130 above to meet daytime requirements. The run time is listed as up to 60 hours on 3 C-cell batteries. Holding it feels a bit like holding an ice cream cone because of the foam flotation ring, but it's incredibly simple in concept and operation. The light floats with the lens up to optimize the all-around horizontal and vertical beams. What I also really like is that it can also be used as part of a crew-overboard procedure by tossing it in the water if someone falls off so you can more easily locate them.

I'm loving the SOS Distress Light. I no longer have to carry pyrotechnics onboard, nor do I have to buy new flares every couple of years or hassle with disposal of outdated flares. There's not much downside here other than needing to keep fresh batteries stocked. I suppose some might question the overall visibility, considering that the flag must also be flown if used during daylight hours. Still, I'm a believer and am eager to get the Coast Guard's reaction during a vessel safety inspection this coming summer.