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.




A Circumnavigation with Two Girls and a Tree Named Makeba

"At the end of your life, you're not going to remember all the knick-knacks and gadgets you had around you ... you're going to remember how far you could see when you looked out on the horizon. 
-Amy Lukas

Have you seen the t-shirt that says "You can't buy happiness, but you can buy a boat and that's just about the same thing"?

Best friends Amy Lukas and Mary Catterlin would argue that you don't even have to buy the boat. Instead, you can build one from a single cottonwood tree and sail it on a 1,200 mile 93 day circumnavigation of Lake Michigan that's filled with happiness.

I suppose it started with Mary wanting to own a boat but not being able to afford one. So naturally she decided to make one. A downed cottonwood tree provided the materials. She then spent three years carving the hull out of the tree trunk and creating her very own dugout canoe. Makeba (mah-KAY-buh) was born. With Amy's help, outriggers and a sailing rig from a Sunfish were added. At a mere 11 feet in length, Makeba was a small vessel for a grand adventure.





In 2012, Amy and Mary set off paddling and sailing their way around the shoreline of Lake Michigan and learning about the big lake and friendship in ways that few will ever experience. Along the way they met interesting people, overcame obstacles and accomplished the goal they set for themselves. I saw Amy and Mary present about their adventure at the State of Lake Michigan Conference last fall and immediately knew their story was perfect for SailFarLiveFree.com.

What follows is an interview I did with Amy and Mary. If you want more details about their adventure, check out their website. Better yet, watch their documentary or buy their book, Lake Michigan in a Dugout.


What did your time sailing and paddling around Lake Michigan teach you about the Great Lakes and living in close connection to the water?

Amy: Lake Michigan is beautiful at all times of the year, not just from Memorial Day to Labor Day. From the warm glassy water in July, to the wild waves of September, you can find beauty and a sense of wonder on the water regardless of the season. Finding yourself on top of a monstrous dune or on a completely empty stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline is something magical. Being by the water day in and day out is calming. We are extremely fortunate to call part of Lake Michigan home. It was really inspiring to see how much people love their portion of the lake - it gives me hope that all sections of our Great Lakes are being advocated for by those who have a connection to the water. The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world, and to think that they are right in our backyard to explore is...amazing! If people are exposed to the Great Lakes, they will inevitably fall in love with them (how could they not?) and will have a stake in protecting these precious areas for years to come.


Similarly, what did the time together teach you about friendship?

Amy: One of the most frequent remarks that comes our way after hearing about our adventure is, "I just can't believe that you're still friends!" So I guess we've learned that it's difficult to find friends that you go on extended trips with successfully. I couldn't imagine it turning out any other way; we were back to going on mini adventures the day we got off Lake Michigan. Some friends end up being more like family, and Mary is definitely like a sister to me. Our personalities just mesh well together and we're usually giggling at something silly. Humor helps in friendships, as well as in most situations we find ourselves in throughout life.

Mary: I believe we each learned and better appreciated how lucky we are to get along so well for so long. With such similar interests, goals, and attitudes we were able to share this experience and many others with, I think, greater meaning. It's wonderful to be able to share so much with a good friend, be it struggles and achievements alike.

Cruising sailors often give dreamers the advice of "Just go...Don't wait!" when asked how to make it happen or how to afford a sailing adventure. So, how did you make your adventure a reality, both financially and emotionally? Maybe you can talk about some of the trade-offs that were required to make it happen.

Mary: I had no idea how to build a boat, but I took on the project wholeheartedly, knowing that the process was part of the adventure. Commitment and patience gave me a great focus in what I wanted in life and allowed me to more easily take on one obstacle after another. Overthinking a project can make it too daunting if you try and put every problem ahead of you before even taking that first step. I say, just figure it out as you go and don't stop going.

Amy: We had both just graduated from university, with no major commitments line up, so it really was a great time to "just go." Sure we had to put aside some job opportunities, but we both wanted to go for this adventure more than any conventional job anyways. We were very DIY, freestyling everything (see: Makeba) so we made things work. We did set up a crowd funding page on Indiegogo to get our story out there and to gather some support and donations for our trip. We weren't hoping to raise much, but did need some help with funds for some of the more expensive gear that we didn't already own. Reaching out to several companies for sponsorship, as well as family and friends for borrowed items, put our adventure within reach.


What do you wish you would have known before starting the circumnavigation?

Amy: How quickly it would end. At times, the loop seemed to drag and it felt like we were making no progress at all. I wish we would have slowed down our thoughts during those moments especially to really take in the lake, the people, and the journey we were on. Before we knew it, we were less than 100 miles from home and then it was over in a flash. We cherished every moment; I just wish our lake was bigger so that we would have had even more days to explore and travel along the shoreline.

Mary: I don't know if I would have wanted to know more beforehand - especially since we were successful. Naivety and open mindedness have been some our greatest strengths against new challenges. Of course we did our research and planned as much as possible before setting off, but I think our lack of experience in long expeditions gave us a small advantage. No discouraging experience could stop us from trying to achieve our dream.

Have you gained new perspectives about living simply? If so, what are they?

Amy: We had to pack and unpack, thinking about to take and not take. And in the end, it wouldn't have mattered much about whether or not we took an extra shirt or extra camera battery. Those are all little details that blur the bigger picture. At the end of your life, you're not going to remember all the knick-knacks and gadgets you had around you, you're going to remember the way that your stomach hurt from laughing so hard about forgetting to zip the tent, you're going to remember the instant you connected with someone who you now must have known in some past life, and you're going to remember how far you could see when you looked out on the horizon. I think we both already had ideas about how little you need to make a happy life. Living out of an eleven foot boat for 93 days really put the "living simply" perspective to the test though. And it's true, you can be the happiest you've ever been in a tiny boat on the water with your best friend.


Thank you to Amy and Mary for agreeing to this interview and sharing a small part of your story! By the way, if you liked Amy and Mary's story, you'll probably also like Katie and Jessie's story, another sailing adventure from a female duo originating in the Great Lakes.

Sailing Gear Review: NaviSafe Navi Light 360 Portable Anchor Light


One of the great joys of owning a boat is anchoring out, whether it be for one night, one week or some portion of a lifetime. I love the -isms of life on the hook: escapism, minimalism, hedonism, tuism. Yes, tuism is a real word. It's the theory that individuals have a second or other self. So I think I'm using it correctly when I say I'm a different person at anchor. Life is slower. My mind is clearer. It's here that I live in the moment.

But I digress, so let's get to the point of this post, which is to review an option for a portable, battery powered anchor light.

Obviously, we've got a masthead anchor light on our sailboat, but it's the only remaining bulb on the boat that's not LED. This bothers me. I'm a big proponent of LED bulbs on boats because of their energy efficiency and long life. And I admit to neurotically losing a bit of sleep at night thinking about the incandescent bulb eating up juice from the house battery bank. I know the bank is plenty big enough to endure 10-hours of anchor light use, but still...

Unfortunately, the stock anchor light fixture from Catalina doesn't have a dome large enough to accept an LED bulb and I haven't gotten around to upgrading to an entirely new fixture. So I've been experimenting with alternative anchor lights instead. My go-to portable anchor light the last couple of years has been the Carmanah M550, a really high quality solar powered LED that has a remote control and up to 3 nautical miles of visibility. The downside to recommending the M550 is the high cost and limited availability. Of course the ultra affordable option is a solar garden light available for just a few bucks, but the build quality is atrocious and they certainly don't meet USCG requirements for a safe, legal anchor light.

I wasn't looking to replace the M550, but it now has competition. I recently picked up a Navi Light 360 from NaviSafe. The gear I review here at SailFarLiveFree is stuff we honestly like and use on our sailboat. Having said that, occasionally there's some gear that we really love - gear that stands above the rest. The NaviSafe Navi Light 360 is one of my all-time favorites.

But before I gush too much about it's features, let me tell you what I don't like. I don't like that's it's powered by 3 AAA batteries. It would be better if it had a rechargeable Ni-Cd battery so I could simply plug it in during the day for a recharge instead of needing to carry extra AAA's. Or better yet, I'd much prefer a built-in solar charging option like the M550 has, or at least a USB power port so I could charge it with my 15 watt panel. The trade-off with having built-in solar is, of course, that the overall size of the light would need to increase and as it is, the NaviSafe is about half the size and weight of the M550. Which brings me to the NaviSafe's first advantage, it's small and compact - about the size of a cupcake. For comparison sake, the M550 is more like the size of a hamburger and bun.

What else do I like about the NaviSafe? Well, the basics are good: 360 degrees of very bright LED visibility with a 2 nautical mile range and USCG approval. It also meets ABYC A-16 nav light standards.

Here's the Navi Light 360 off and on (all 16 LEDs lit)

And then there are bonus features that make it outstanding. First, it's fully waterproof to 65 feet and floats with the light facing up, so it can double as a rescue/MOB light. There's also a plastic ring on the top of the light that glows for 8 hours with just 10 minutes of daylight charging. This is useful for finding the NaviSafe in the dark before the LEDs are turned on.

Mounting options are plenty and begin with a double magnet base. The base plate separates from the rest of the light via magnets, so you can leave the base plate mounted (either temporarily or permanently) while stowing the light below decks when it's not needed. The base plate itself can be mounted with any of the following, all of which are included: an adjustable Velcro strap, an adjustable lanyard, or a stainless steel screw. I'll probably most often use the Velcro strap around the end of the boom since the strap is big enough to go around the furled sail and sail cover - Nice! I'm also planning to use the NaviSafe as the all-around white light on our dinghy, so portability and mounting options are a clear benefit.

The light itself is actually comprised of 16 separate LEDs positioned in a circle so they provide 360 degrees of visibility when they are all lit. With all 16 LEDs on, the 3 AAA batteries will provide 13-15 hours of operation. While 13 hours is long enough for a night on the hook and will be just fine for cruisers who use the NaviSafe as a back-up for their masthead hardwired anchor light, it will mean a lot of battery changing for those who will use this as an anchor light more frequently, which is why I'd prefer a rechargeable Ni-Cd battery.

The packing shows the functions quite nicely

There are other modes if you don't need all 16 LEDs (360 degrees) or want longer burn times. The light can also be set to flash (80-85 hours), forward lights only (10 LEDs, 225 degrees, 22-24 hours), backward lights only (6 LEDs, 135 degrees, 30-32 hours), or dim lighting (4 LEDs, 70-72 hours).

To sum things up, I think the Navi Light 360 should be in every cruisers gear bag. It's an excellent back-up anchor light that can also function just as well as a MOB rescue light or simply an extra moveable cabin light. It's not the perfect solution for a full-time anchor light because of the battery usage (I like the Carmanah better for this singular purpose), but it does everything else extremely well.

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