Friday, July 22, 2011

Competitive Sailing

Growing up in the Midwest not far from countless small lakes as well as Lake Michigan, sailing of one kind or another has always been a part of my life. From kayaks and canoes to speedboats and motor yachts, boats are familiar territory. After moving to San Francisco I gained experience on more and bigger sailboats, even being somewhat useful to have aboard. This year however, has been a little different, and that is a major understatement. At the beginning of the spring sailing season I went with a friend to crew a race on a J 105. Wow, was that an education. Knowing your way around boats is very different from knowing "how" to sail and a far cry still from being useful on a race boat. Months later, I've now lost count of how many times and races I've been out for. I've worked committee boats setting marks, crewed almost every position on all kinds of boats and met and sailed with incredibly skilled world class sailors.

Oddly enough I think I was far more confident at the beginning of the season and would, having crewed on some really big boats, happily single handed anything under 40 feet. Perhaps I've lost sight of how relaxed cruising typically is but at this point I'm an order of magnitude better and more useful and while I'm sure it would be fine, would now think twice about single handing anything over 30.

It's also been an eye opener for understanding new levels of teamwork, what a person can and can't endure, as well as simply paying attention for extended periods of time in a chaotic environment, not something I've ever experienced in cruising where the most intense things have been fending off at the dock or occasional pleas for someone to trim the main when it's luffing to save the cloth. Granted, I've done a number of things that were intense and needed loads of focus, just not active focus for hours on end. At times it's even been more intense than the competitive fencing I did in college.

I think my big take away from all of this has been actually been the value of getting outside your comfort zone.  For me that hasn't been a more intense sailing experience but rather being an active part of smaller tight knit teams in an intensely physical and personal way. There's a lot of yelling, everyone, and I mean everyone, screws up at some point in the day and if everyone is looking out for each other, someone is bound to get hurt. The more experienced crew inevitably look after the more green ones but there are times when that newbie sailor is all that stands between the boat and serious mishaps.

It's intense and again. in a different way than anything I've ever done. I've been involved in a lot of activities from climbing and caving to zero margin for error things involving firearms and explosives but those things are generally very predictable once you get past the surface. Maybe it's just that I've found something that requires more experience than I guessed to understand but it's been an incredible growth experience. Maybe if I'd grown up on the regatta scene instead of other things it wouldn't seem like this but for now I'll take it for everything it's worth.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oyama solar charger review

About a year ago I got an Oyama brand solar charger from Batteries Plus. It wasn't super cheap but at around $30 it's been useful and is still seeing service now.

For size it's relatively compact, only a little larger than my Android smartphone and it's very light weight. It came with a tether but no mounting device of any kind, something that would make it very useful. As it stands now it's easiest to use in a home or office setting. My main use, I'm guessing this is common, is as an on the go backup power source for my phone. So, it's useful but maybe not ideal. That said even with limited battery capacity, slight awkwardness and lengthy charge time(6-8 hours minimum) it's still a bargain compared to the solar backpacks and messenger bags on the market.

The device is designed to alternately charge from a USB port and did initially but the circuit failed for unknown reasons. It does continue to charge via the solar cell so it's function isn't really all that diminished. It will not on the other hand charge a device while it is charging. You must charge the internal battery and then charge your device.

I've had to repair it once, probably my own fault for breaking the case but it's not built to take much abuse.

Conclusion, I've likely not yet gotten my money back in energy savings and probably never will. It costs something like $2 a year to charge an average phone for 8 hours a day 365 days a year. So, realistically, that's just never going to happen on an individual level. I do think I've gotten solid ROI in convenience dollars though. About the third or fourth time I've been able to plug in my dead phone on the go and get another couple hours of use out of it I'd call it paid for since I'd have happily bought batteries to do the same job.

I'd still rather have a solar charging bag but the Oyama is useful for now.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I've been on the West Coast for about five years now and while I've eaten a crab or three, I'd never given much thought to catching them until the other day when I took an out of town friends to Crissy Field in San Francisco. We were out of the fishing pier getting a look at the Golden Gate and happened on some people having a great time crab fishing.

Essentially, most crabbers simply bait a trap, a net with hoops in many cases, with chicken and then wait a while to give the tasty crustaceans time to crawl in. Then you haul up the trap and hopefully have a keeper or two. Some species are restricted and there is a size limit, not unlike that for fish. You simply toss them into a bucket, re-bait and go for more.

So, I thought I'd give it a go at some point and last weekend bought an inexpensive crab trap, $6 plus some line I already had to get it into the water. It was a compact folding trap that would fit in my backpack, not a bad idea in general and a bonus for me as I'm usually in crabbing spots while I'm out on the motorcycle.

Note that California has the laws structured so that you can fish and crab from public piers without a license. It's something like $50 a year to get one but free is nice. I'm not sure what piers are public other than a handful in San Francisco and the one I've seen in Berkeley but their seem to be plenty and if I end up liking going after crabs I'll spring for the permit. I met one sailor that keeps a couple small crab pots on his boat and drops them over the side right at his slip.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, catch some crabs and cook them up right on your boat. Though, in my case, I didn't have a boat and things didn't go quite as planned. I'd had a lovely idea that I'd take my trap, a little all in one grill kit and some bait and just spend the afternoon. I'd gotten the trap out, baited it and cast it into the water one time and it went down never to return. That was a total bummer on my day and the end of my first crab outing.

Not the end of the world, I had a fun talk with a couple of far more successful crabbers and then headed out to find new gear. As luck would have it I didn't find new but was given an old trap. As you might note in the photo, it's in need of a little help. I figured I'd give it a go. Worst case is that I have to forgo repairing the net and replace it for $15. Being as the trap itself costs more than that I'll be ahead either way and have learned something in the offing.

I'll post about the repair and hopefully successful second trip to the pier.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

5.10 Coyote

One of my too many hobbies is climbing. I'm pretty much a free solo and bouldering enthusiast, mainly because I haven't made the effort to connect with a climbing group or partner and often like to head off on the spur of the moment. I'm also on a tight budget so I don't get in a lot of big trips or outings that I'd like.

I recently accepted that my old shoes were done and half a size too big anyway and decided to spring for a new pair. I'd read mixed reviews on the 5.10 Coyote but I like the style and when I had a look in the store they seemed put together well. I handed over my dollars to Lombardi's on Polk St and headed out for a climb in Marin.

New climbing shoes are usually awesome. Still sticky and supportive, not yet grunged out and nasty looking, they're nice. The fit really works for me with the Coyote's. I have a high instep and a wide foot at the ball, so fit in climbing shoes can be a challenge. They really did everything I needed them to and weren't too bad for minimal walking around up top and when figuring out another route at the bottom.

After a few months of one of two outdoor trips a week they seem to be holding up fine. I do try to take care of them, brushing dirt off, wiping down the soles after a climb and letting them air out clipped to, instead of inside, my pack on the way home. When compared to other shoes of much higher price points for what I need regarding outdoor climbing they work great. I've used them for climbs ranging from 5.9 to 5.11d and 5.12's. Nothing beyond and hour or two but they held up well and were fairly grabby even on chert.

My last pair were an older Boreal ACE's that have been good shoes but so far no better than the Coyote, especially considering the price jump. Though I'd love to get my toes into a pair of Ballet Gold's.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wild Edibles, Escargot

 ©  JT Barnhart 2011
Escargot is kind of an odd one but not something foodies will typically shy away from unless they are non-meat eaters anyway. Harvesting even a half dozen decent sized snails can really be a boon to a meal for those that like them, even better if you grow your own garlic and make a small batch of fresh butter.

They are certainly easy to catch and often found in abundance after a heavy rain, so right about the same time and hopefully in the same places you might hunt mushrooms. Though, you can even find them on the exterior walls of buildings in Nob Hill and Russian Hill, unexpected but welcome. I've gathered them on a random walk home more than once and simply put them in an empty paper coffee cup. They seem to do well in our backyard herb garden. It's certainly possible to keep them in a container, I'd imagine if you kept it strictly to vegetables you could even keep them in your compost bin. Though, I have yet to try to raise them in anything resembling captivity.

It may be an urban legend, but local foragers claim the snails in Nob Hill are all descended from a bunch that a chef released after his restaurant closed in the 1920's. Could be, sounds plausible anyway and I've never checked to see what snails might be native vs invasive, you can eat all of them either way.

The consistent recommendation has been to pick them, put them in a container with a  secure lid and feed them things like carrots, apples and basil for a few days before letting them fast for few more to the get that out of their system as well.   This gets unknown things and grit out of their system. After purging you'll need to wash them several time as well. It's a fairly lengthy but simple process and there are lots of opinions on how it should be done with a wealth of information on the web if you want to give it a try. The main point is that they are out there and with a little butter and herbs they're quite good.

If someone is interested  and lets me know,I can write up something more in depth on how to prepare these little morsels. It's not tough and they're certainly worth the effort.