8 Reasons Why We Love The Help ‘Em Up Harness

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When we first moved aboard Mary Christine two years ago, it was an immediate challenge to safely get our biggest dog on and off the boat. For the first few months we lived at the dock which was relatively easy to help him in and out. We knew, however, that dock life wouldn’t last long and sooner or later we were going to have to figure out how to get all 75 lbs of him down into the dinghy and again back up from the dinghy while floating around at anchor.

Gunner was 12 at the time and we could already tell he was having trouble jumping as well as he used to in his younger years. Getting up onto the bed was harder for him and we knew it would only get worse as time went on. Luckily, I remembered a special harness my Grandmother had found years before while researching slings and lifting tools for her sweet little dachshund, Sophie, who’s back end had been paralyzed.

Blue Dog Designs makes a special patented hip lift harness called Help ‘Em Up with a front end handle and removable back end handle with two different styles for males and females. I determined from their sizing chart that Gunner would need a large and even though Betsy was still pretty young and agile, I ordered her a medium. I knew Betsy didn’t really need to wear a harness all the time, and she definitely didn’t have any mobility issues, but we decided that having some extra ‘hand-holds’ on her while under way would be very helpful.

The very minute we received them in the mail, Gunner began wearing the front half of the harness 24/7. We unclip the back half when not in use to prevent any chafe or discomfort while he is sleeping and moving around throughout the day.

These harnesses are definitely not cheap, running an average price of around $100 each but they are absolutely worth their weight in gold!! This harness is the single most necessary item I could ever recommend for anyone with large dog on a boat, or for any dog with mobility issues. Though Blue Dog Designs sponsored us with a small discount to write an honest review, I don’t receive any compensation for recommending this product.  I am so forever grateful for what it has done for us that I feel it’s my duty to spread the word to anyone that may also want to give their dog a little ‘help up’!

Here are 8 reasons why we love the Help ’em up Harness:

1. THEY’RE BREATHABLE

We live in the tropics where the hot sun is always beating down on us. I needed a solution for Gunner and Betsy that would cover the smallest amount of surface area on their bodies, yet still have all the proper supports. This design has neoprene pads lined with air flow material, allowing our babies to wear the full harness yet not be too hot.

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2. ALL MATERIALS ARE MARINE GRADE

Living on a boat in the marine air makes everything susceptible to corrosion. I was a bit concerned on how long the harness would last in this environment but after two years of hard use, there is no sign of deterioration. The stainless steel is marine grade and all the stitching is very durable. The straps and fasteners are high quality. You get what you pay for, and when you live on a boat this is very important!

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3. CAREFULLY DESIGNED SUPPORT POINTS

The adjustable nylon straps allow for a perfect fit. The edging on the pads are made with micro fleece and the pads themselves are made of neoprene. The straps are covered with neoprene sleeves to protect against chafe. The pelvic pad under the hip lift is adjustable and very soft. The support points are designed to distribute the weight perfectly and with gentle pads in all the right places, eliminating stress on joints in a comfortable and non-invasive way.

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4. OKAY FOR LONG-TERM USE

Although it’s best to remove the hip lift part of the harness at night or whenever possible to avoid chafe or discomfort, it is totally safe to leave it on as well. Our dogs like to curl up in a ball to get cozy and the straps do pull a bit differently when they are laying down but they never seem to be uncomfortable.

“What makes this dog harness truly unique is it’s designed to stay on your dog for extended periods of time. Unlike towels, slings or leashes that need to be rigged with each use, or ramps that have to be moved or adjusted, our harness is right at hand, whenever you need it. We believe if support isn’t there when your dog needs it, it’s just too late.” -Blue Dog Designs

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5. SAFETY IS KEY

Just like kids, pets are fast, wiggly, and they are often just out of reach. With the Help ‘Em Up Harness, they think they are out of reach but you have an extra handle to grab at the last second keeping them safe! Extra handles are important on a boat because we’re always in motion. The dogs have pretty good balance but there’s always a chance of an unexpected wave to send them flying. This harness is perfect for a little extra piece of mind.

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6. TRICKY LIFTING

Whether it’s getting the dogs over the lifelines to go swimming or to get on and off a dock, two handles are better than one! We’ve used the harnesses in some precarious places.

Also on a safety note, if our dogs were to fall overboard, we would be able to safely lift them back on board with this harness. It wouldn’t slip off like a traditional harness might, injuring them in the process. Gunner has slipped off the dock twice in the last two years and luckily he was wearing his harness so we had something to grab onto getting him out of the water. Bad things can happen and it’s always best to be prepared.

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One of the most important reasons it’s imperative that we have one of these for Gunner is to get him on and off the boat. It’s what everyone wants to know . Lifting a 75 lb dog on and off of a sailboat is ‘tricky’ to say the least.

Betsy doesn’t have any trouble jumping straight from the dinghy up on the deck of our boat all by herself, however she is almost 9 years old and sooner or later that big jump will be difficult for her. When that time comes, this is how we will Help Her Up:

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Gunner thinks he can make the jump still, but in reality there is no way that could ever happen anymore. At 14 years old, his back legs just don’t work. The key is that he actually wants to get up on the boat (or down into the dinghy) which helps tremendously. He initiates the process with a little forward momentum and gets his front legs up on the tube of the dinghy.

I can’t quite reach the main handle on the front half of his harness so I just grab the side of it instead. For this maneuver, it’s fine, though not ideal for all lifts. Peter lifts the rear handle and scoops him up on deck. The back end isn’t any more difficult than the front end, thanks to this harness. I swear it’s magic how weightless they feel when you use the hip lift!

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7. LESS PHYSICAL STRESS – for us and the dogs!

The dogs don’t hurt themselves trying to jump on their own, but most importantly we don’t throw our backs out trying to lift the dogs. Before Gunner started wearing the Help ‘Em Up harness, I would bend over, slip my arm under his belly, and hoist him up on the bed. It became a painful process for me trying to get all 75 lbs of him up off the floor. At the time we still had a Toyota 4-Runner and getting him into the back of the truck was just as hard on my lower back.

With the hip lift, I can remain upright as I give him a little boost. I can’t even find the right words to describe how much of a difference it makes, but it’s a night and day difference for sure.

8. RANGE OF MOTION

No doubt, we have an active lifestyle. Our dogs are active and they go everywhere with us. Though Gunner’s mobility issues from old age have recently limited his activity level, he still likes going on adventures. Even small ones.

Our first two years have been filled with many trips to the beach to go swimming or exploration missions on a new island. It’s wonderful that our dogs can wear the Help ‘Em Up harness during all of their regular activities without it getting in the way or being a nuisance at all. They both have very tolerant personalities but if it were uncomfortable in the slightest, they would both be trying to chew it off. I’ve always noticed a complete range of motion while they have the harnesses on which is reassuring to me that I’m not forcing them to wear something they don’t like.

In fact, the harness does much more than protect their regular range of motion. It actually increases the range of motion for Gunner! Within the last few months he has gotten to a point where he cannot walk more than a few steps without his back legs giving out and folding under him. The degenerative neurological damage that has affected him has made it so that he can only walk normally if I am carrying his back legs with the hip lift when we go for a walk. He tires quickly but as soon as I give a little lift, his front end speeds up as if he knows he isn’t being held back anymore. He can practically run faster than I can if I’m holding the hip lift. Without the harness, my heart breaks watching him try to go explore the nearby bushes and grass.

It was just a few months ago he could run wild down the beach on his own…

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It’s so hard for me to describe the miracles that these harnesses have created for us. We’ve been able to safely and comfortably bring our dogs wherever we go as we travel around the Caribbean Where The Coconuts Grow!

Be sure to check out Help ‘Em Up by Blue Dog Designs, or contact me for more questions!

DIY Throw Pillows

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It took me two years to muster up the courage to actually start all the sewing projects I’ve been dreaming about since before Peter and I bought our boat. I mean, for a girl who hadn’t used a sewing machine since 8th grade Home-Ec, redoing my salon cushions on a 42′ sailboat was just a teensy bit intimidating!!

One thing was for sure. I needed a Sailrite sewing machine. If I was going to get serious about this, I wasn’t going to just make salon cushions. I wanted to make all new throw pillows, jerry can covers, hatch covers, winch covers, gps cover, fender covers, crate covers, more sun shades, mast boots, lazy jacks, sail bag repairs, isinglass repairs, and most importantly I wanted to be able to repair our own sails on the fly. I’d skimmed over many-a-conversation on Women Who Sail and Sewing On Boats facebook groups and it was very clear that I could get by with a household machine but it was almost unanimously advised that a Sailrite makes all the difference.

I found a strong enough wifi signal back in St. Thomas and began watching as many Sailrite how-to videos as I possibly could. It seemed easy enough… those videos are so thorough and they practically hold your hand as they teach you how to make pretty much anything you want. There are dozens of free videos on their website that can make you feel invincible!

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though…

I most definitely planned to do my salon cushions as soon as I got my Sailrite machine, but I wanted to start with something a little easier to essentially learn how to use the machine. After watching about four videos about making box cushions and two videos on throw pillows, I carefully took some measurements and excitedly plugged them into the handy-dandy Sailrite Fabric Calculator on their website. I had spent weeks before deciding on what kind of fabric I wanted to use, and what my color palette would be so all I had to do was place the order.

I ordered enough fabric for my salon cushions and a ‘boat-load’ of new throw pillows. The sewing machine and all my fabric arrived at the post office in St. Thomas and we lugged it all back home in our little rental car. (For those of you that know boats, you know why I had to get rid of all the packaging first!) Peter helped me disassemble the gigantic shipping box in the grocery store parking lot and carefully assemble the base of the sewing machine so we could put the carrying case on and bring it all home safely.

Our good friend Eben on Necesse happens to be a Sailrite expert, as he’s been sewing almost all his life and has owned a Sailrite for many years. While anchored next to us in Christmas Cove, he was so excited to see a bright and shiny new Ultrafeed LSZ-1 machine (which is exactly what he has, but with a few more bells and whistles on the newer ones) that he so graciously taught me how the machine works, how to thread it, and how to oil it. He answered all my beginner questions and sent me on my way feeling totally ready to start sewing! The booklet that comes with the machine tells you everything you need to know in a very clear way, but I learn much faster when someone shows me in person 😉

My very first project was repairing our BBQ cover. That was a piece of cake. I decided the throw pillows would come next.

How do you make your own throw pillows??

Let me show you the inexpensive idea I came up with to make all the throw pillows you want!

1.   I waited until the local K-Mart was having a sale on regular sized bed pillows. 5-bucks each!! I also bought some king size pillows and euro size pillows that were all on sale too.

2.   I took my fabric scissors and cut the pillows down to size. The king pillows were long enough to cut in half and still end up with two squares. The $5 regular bed pillows were measured and marked with pencil where I wanted to cut, making a new square pillow and a smaller rectangle sized pillow.

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3.   I removed the batting and foam support from the pillow form covers and laid them flat.

4.   With a predetermined size in mind, I measured, marked and cut the pillow form fabric down to a square.

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5.   With two open edges, I turned them inside out and sewed one side closed, leaving one end open to put the batting back in.

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6.   Once all my pillow forms were cut down and sewn to the size I wanted, I unraveled the batting for each one, removing the excess batting since the pillow form covers are now much smaller than what they were before, then I sewed them all shut.

7.   With all the left over batting, I had enough to make several new pillows. I used old pillow cases cut down to size to make pillow form covers for the extra batting (see step 4).

If this sounds like more work than you’re interested in doing, you could always buy cheap throw pillows from the store and just recover them. On the other hand, Sailrite has all the materials you need to make pillow forms from scratch if you don’t want to cut up bed pillows like I did. Just watch the ‘pillow form’ video for details.

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Now for the fun part! I had chosen Mill Creek Nabil in Poppy, an outdoor fabric with a simple print for my accent pillows. I’m not really into the ‘marine’ prints, busy looking prints, or the foofy floral patterns. I like simple and this fabric kind of reminded me of waves without actually being a picture of waves. I wanted a warm color scheme but didn’t want a red, orange, yellow or pink. Instead, I found a coral color that isn’t any of those, but rather a mix of all of them together and doesn’t clash at all with the Forest Green that envelops the cockpit and exterior area of the boat. With all the white areas inside my boat paired with the honey-teak stain on all the wood, I definitely wanted a warm color instead of cool blues and greens. To me, warm colors bring a cozy feeling where cool colors feel relaxing but not welcoming.

8.   I wanted to make envelope-style covers for the throw pillows and the Sailrite videos were easy to follow. I marked my measurements on the underside of the fabric and cut the first pattern out to try on for size.

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9.   Pleased with the way it fit, I measured and cut the other three pieces, giving me a total of four pillow covers in this color.

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10.   I followed the video and sewed them up!

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11.   The next color I chose was Sunbrella Canvas Taupe. I had previously ordered fabric samples and it was the best dark/neutral accent for my color scheme. Unfortunately the roll of fabric was not cut straight, so I had to find a way to make the edge straight before cutting my patterns. When you don’t have yard stick, you have to get creative! I used the edges of several chart books to extend across the 54″ wide fabric and traced a straight line. Sewing up the rest of the new throw pillow covers was much easier than the first batch.

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Notice the old cushions in the photo above.

The next photos actually give you a sneak peek at my new salon cushions (which were made after the throw pillows). I had decided on Sunbrella Dupione in Pearl for the salon cushions after being introduced to the Dupione fabric in person by my friend Linda on Troubadour. She is another Sailrite Expert Seamstress and has made some pretty incredible things with her LSZ-1.

Even thought most people think I am crazy for choosing a light colored fabric with two dogs on board, I really wanted to keep it light and bright inside my home. The Dupione fabric is extra durable and easy to clean. I even chose Sunbrella Canvas White for my third color choice on the throw pillows because I loved how they all complimented each other so well.

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12.   After finishing all the inside pillows, I finished up the big ones for the cockpit. Again with the desire to have a really cozy space, I wanted big oversized Euro pillows up in the cockpit. I decided to use the Dupione Pearl and the Canvas Taupe that I had used downstairs, tying both spaces together.

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13.   One thing I did differently than what the Sailrite videos said to do was the seam on the envelope edges. The first pillows I did have an unfinished edge with only one fold at the envelope opening. All the rest were folded twice before stitching the hem (see below) and turned out much nicer. There are a few little things like this that only I would notice but all-in-all my first major sewing project was a total success!

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The Dupione fabric turned out simply divine! The texture is both soft and luxurious, yet extremely durable and water resistant.

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I saved hundreds of dollars making these DIY covers with the help of Sailrite and couldn’t’ be happier. What do you think?!

Up next: DIY Salon Cushions

Cruising BVI: White Bay, Jost Van Dyke

One of my favorite places to spend the afternoon is in White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. When Dad and Stacy visited last December I got a little click-hapy on the camera. I deleted a few hundred photos from this particular visit, but below are the photos that remain. For the life of me, I could not decide on the usual 10-15 photos I usually post so I am sharing them all with you instead.

If you’ve ever been to White Bay, you can appreciate the magic I feel when I see these photos. I personally prefer to enjoy this paradise during the low season, and early in the morning before the charter boats arrive, before the craziness begins.

Peruse the gallery or click on each individual photo to leave a comment! Enjoy 🙂

Do you prefer a quiet white sandy beach all to yourself, or a rockin beach bar scene at the hottest destination in the islands?

What Marine Insurance Companies Don’t Want You To Know

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This is a long post, but I promise it contains some very important information that you probably didn’t know…

Let me begin with a little history. When we first purchased our boat back in 2013, we didn’t have a clue about what kind of insurance we needed, just that we needed it. We were not sailors. Peter and I both had over 10 years of boating experience, but not on the kind that had masts and keels jetting conspicuously straight up and straight down from the hull. Countless mishaps and horror stories were shared with us by each person we encountered, engraining the fear into us that we needed insurance, whatever the cost.

“You haven’t really sailed in Florida waters unless you’ve run aground at least once!” they would say…

You may be wondering, “do you really need insurance?” It’s a very personal choice. If you’re like us and just sold everything you own to sail away on a boat, then you’re probably leaning towards Hell Yes!  My go-to source of information over at CommuterCruiser.com has some excellent information about deciding on if you need insurance, and what types of insurance to consider. Everyone’s circumstances are different and the value of your boat may not be worth the annual premiums in the end. On the other hand, if you live on your boat in the Hurricane Belt, especially during hurricane season, it’s a pretty important investment. For those that do opt to get insurance, there are quite a few wrinkles to iron out first.

If you’ve ever tried to get insurance on a boat or a car for the first time, you know that pretty much no company wants to cover you. If you find a company that will actually give you a quote, they tack on an astronomical premium and require a bunch of other ‘stuff” to make it even more difficult for you to bind coverage. Since our boat is 35 years old, it made it even harder to find a company that would insure an ‘older’ boat. Some of the highly recommended companies wouldn’t offer us quotes at all simply due to the age of the boat.

I’m normally the one that takes care of all the paperwork but Peter wanted to take care of the research for our first insurance policy on the boat. Being as charismatic and handsome as he is, I don’t think he’s ever received this kind of rejection before! Albeit deflated, he found a policy with IMIS insured by Concept Special Risks that quoted us at about $3,000 for an annual premium. It was really our only option at the time. We had to have a licensed Captain be listed as an operator on our policy and that Captain had to sign a statement saying that Peter was capable of single-handing the boat.

Luckily, we knew just the guy to help us out. We hired Tom Crow (out of Burnt Store Marina on the West Coast of Florida) to come out sailing with us and we showed him we could safely operate the boat. Thanks Tom!! Granted, we were in the protected waters of Charlotte Harbor, but this was a piece of cake, we thought. Tom recommended we hang back for about a year (really?!)  to gain some experience on inland waters, but we had other plans…

After coughing up $3k for a policy we really didn’t understand, we set off on the beginning of our journey. In order to be covered, we thought we had to be below 12 degrees 40′ north latitude during hurricane season so we booked it through the Bahamas, DR, Virgin Islands and all the way down the Eastern Caribbean, barely scraping the surface of all the amazing places we wanted to visit. We arrived in Grenada for our first hurricane season sometime in June last year. August rolled around and we didn’t get new quotes in time to try to reduce our premium, but instead automatically renewed for something like $2,800. Again, we forked out the cash without fully understanding our policy. I tried reading the contract, but it just really didn’t make sense. Who really understands these contracts anyway?

This year, I decided to do my homework early and find some better quotes. I put feelers out in the many sailing groups on Facebook and started getting a few new agency names to contact. I also started researching some of the technical mumbo-jumbo that was in my first two policies in an attempt to actually understand what we are paying for.

While scouring the forums and Facebook comments about the topic at hand, I quickly learned I should be cautious of companies offering the lowest premium. As the old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true…” I even felt a little embarrassed to learn that there are some companies that are known for doing everything they can to NOT pay out on a claim. On the other hand, there are some companies with excellent reputations for swift claim handling and fair payouts. Needless to say, that amazingly low quote I found turned out to be from a company that was notorious for not paying on claims.

This wasn’t all I learned…

WHAT MARINE INSURANCE COMPANIES DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW 

In my research I happened to notice one gentleman who’s comment really stuck out to me. He said, “Be sure to ask if your policy has Consequential Damage. Consequent-what?! He mentioned busted through-hulls and sinking so I figured it was pretty important. Google led me to an article from BoatUS called Five Questions To Ask Your Boat’s Insurance Agent. It was written in 2011 but contains some very interesting things to consider.

After reading this article and getting down to business with some of the insurance agents I had received quotes from, here is what I learned about what Marine Insurance Companies Don’t Want You To Know :

Consequential Damage:

Catastrophic losses that include fire, explosion, sinking, demasting, collision or stranding are considered a “consequence.” For example, when your boat sinks due to a rusted, through-hull fitting breaking off, the sinking is a consequence of the broken thru-hull. This is a serious concern for older boats (like ours) where nearly every single part on the boat, down to every last hose clamp, has probably been replaced already or needs to be replaced soon.

“According to marine survey firms, leaks at through-hulls are estimated to be the cause in 18 percent of sinkings while under way. The numbers are worse at the dock, where failures of fittings below the waterline account for a full 50 percent of sinkings.”

 If a loss is caused by a clear-cut lack of maintenance, the company can deny a claim.  This is specifically referring to a total disregard of any type of maintenance such as leaving a boat unattended for months on end with bilge pumps not working due to dead batteries, or electrical wiring that is a clear fire hazard, or a boat anyone could look at and say “this is an accident waiting to happen”. The best thing to do is be extremely diligent and responsible with your regular maintenance and keep organized records. A reputable company that covers Consequential Damage will not try and deny a valid claim as they can be sued for bad faith.

The policy wording may not specifically say consequential damage is covered, but the exclusions would therein not list fire, explosion, sinking, demasting, collision or stranding, grounding, lightening strike or hurricane damage in an “All Risk” policy. If a policy does not cover Consequential Damage, it would specifically exclude this type of loss. If ever you are unsure, ask your insurance agent!! It’s their job to explain this type of stuff much better than I ever can. I can almost guarantee they won’t tell you about this item though, unless you ask. Our last two policies with IMIS/Concept did NOT include Consequential Damage and we didn’t have the foggiest idea it even existed.

Ask For Discounts:

Some insurance companies offer discounts for endorsements such as Boater’s Safety Courses, Captain’s licenses, and other US Coastguard approved courses completed. Most will offer incentives for applicants with 10+ years of boating experience and zero losses. If you don’t ask about discounts, no one is going to offer them to you.

It’s also usually cheaper to pay your premium from your checking account instead of paying by credit card. Someone is stuck with the credit card fee in every transaction, whether its you or the business you are paying. If you prefer to pay by credit card, find out if you will be charged an additional fee.

Variations in Coverage Values:

During the process of obtaining quotes from various companies, I noticed that some of them quoted me twice. Once for just a little above the value of our boat, and once for just a little lower. The premium difference was substantial with all other coverages the same. Why? I don’t know. But it’s worth asking your agent to play around with the insured value of your boat.

If you don’t receive the exact coverages you want, ask for them to be re-quoted. Some agencies quoted me with their standard $5,000 medical coverage but it didn’t cost that much more to increase it to $10,000. Some quotes included towing for no cost, some didn’t include it unless you asked about it. Same goes for Uninsured Boaters. If this is a coverage you want in your policy, make sure it specifically says it in the quote.

The agent you are working with should help you build a policy that suits your individual needs and wants. If you’re not happy with a particular coverage, talk to your agent. If you received a better quote from a different company, ask if they can match the quote. It doesn’t hurt to ask!!!

Pay attention to your deductibles also. Usually, named storms require your deductible to be doubled. This is typical, but if your hull deductible is already high, damage to your boat during a named storm might cost you more than you think. In our case, the highest chance of damage occurring to our boat is during a named storm, so this deductible is particularly important.

Just remember, if it’s not listed on your quote, it won’t end up on your Certificate of Insurance, and it won’t be covered. Cross those t’s and dot those i’s!!

Actual Cash Value vs. Agreed Value (copied verbatim from here):

When comparing physical damage coverage, the most significant difference that can be found among boat or yacht insurance policies is whether the coverage is based upon “agreed value” or “actual cash value”  (ACV) loss settlement. Agreed value policies normally pay the amount shown on the policy if the boat is considered to be a total loss.  Under such a policy, damage resulting from a partial loss is generally paid for on a replacement cost (new for old) basis, less your deductible; that is, physical depreciation will not be factored into determining the value of the lost or damaged items. However, some items that are subject to higher amounts of normal wear and tear, such as canvas, sails, trailers and some machinery, may be subject to allowance for depreciation in the event of a covered loss.

An actual cash value policy provides less coverage than an agreed policy, but generally at a lower cost.  An ACV policy provides coverage up to the current market value of the vessel in the event of a total loss, taking into account depreciation and the condition of the boat at the time of the loss.  Payments made for partial losses are usually reduced based upon physical depreciation of the lost or damaged items, and the policy deductible is also applied.

Claim Handling:

As I mentioned above, I was a little embarrassed to learn that there are some companies that are known for doing everything they can to not pay out on a claim. On the other hand, there are some companies with excellent reputations for swift claim handling and fair payouts. Needless to say, that amazingly low quote I found turned out to be from a company that was notorious for not paying on claims.

An insurance company’s reputation for claim handling can really only be measured by talking to other policy holders with claim filing experience. Of course every situation is unique, but generally speaking, some companies are just plain better to work with than others.

Individual insurance companies are backed by larger umbrella-type insurance companies such as Lloyds of London. It’s important to find out who your policy is insured by, and who they are backed by in the event that they cannot pay out on your claim. Smaller companies may have cheaper annual premiums, but they may not have the financial ability to actually pay out on a large claim.

Inside The Box:

For the most part, we had no issues with IMIS (other than the somewhat-expensive premiums and high deductibles). Al Golden and his team have literally the best reputation I could find in my research, and they have an excellent reputation for claim handling and fast payouts; another reason we went with them in the first place. What frustrated me was that for the two years we were covered through IMIS, we didn’t know that they actually covered us ‘Inside The Box’. I’m still not clear if our premium would have gone up, or if our deductible would have been higher, but the fact is, I didn’t even know it was an option.

What is ‘The Box’?  Most insurance companies won’t insure you if your boat will be within the Caribbean geographical box of  23.5 degrees North (Tropic of Cancer, Florida Keys) down to 12.4 degrees North latitude (Grenadines) and from 55 to 87 degrees West in effect between June 1 and November 1.

I chalk this one up to the fact that I never took the time to ask the question the right way to get a clear answer. I’m not blaming IMIS for not giving me a clear understanding of my options for coverage with corresponding price differences, but I am kicking myself for not taking the time to ask in the first place. We assumed we were not covered inside the box and therefore declared on our application that we would be south of 12.4 degrees North during the specified Hurricane Season. It’s not a bad thing, but we did a lot of rushing our schedule to get outside the box to make sure we’d be covered by our insurance.

Come to find out, there are more companies than I thought that will cover you inside the box for no additional cost. It’s very important to specify on your policy whether you might be in this box or not, even if you’re not sure, and find out what the price difference is, if any. Insurance companies can deny your claim if you don’t have the true navigational limits of your vessel declared on your policy before an incident takes place.

Liveaboard Coverage:

Again, it really pays to ask the right questions. Some companies charge extra for liveaboards, some don’t charge anything, and some simply don’t allow it. If you don’t specify this on your policy or falsely declare your true status, the company may deny any claims that arise on your behalf later on.

When we first bought our boat we were told by many people that “whatever you do, do NOT say you are liveaboards!!” Well that was terrible advice! We didn’t fully understand the nature of the issue and obviously neither did they. It makes way more sense to be honest about your liveaboard status and make sure it’s covered by your insurance. Anyone who reads this blog can find out in about 2.5 seconds that we live aboard full time. Why would we ever try to hide this from our insurance company, especially if they may deny a claim from us should we ever need to file one?!

In the end, it comes down to doing your own homework and not just listening to the guy on the boat next to you. He may not know what he’s doing either 😉

THE BIG DECISION 

After factoring in all this new information, I had to really see it all on paper in front of me. I drew out a quick chart by hand and began listing all the differences in coverage provided by the various quotes I received and narrowed them down to the top 5 choices. (Click on the photo below to see the quote details I received after narrowing it down to the top five choices.)

Insurance Quotes 2015

Since I was now getting intimately familiar with all this insurance mumbo-jumbo, I decided to delve a little deeper with IMIS and ask about their renowned Jackline policy from Markel American. Two years ago I thought all IMIS policies were the Jackline policy, but that is far from the truth. Our agent, Heather, provided some very helpful information in understanding the difference between our Concept policy and the Jackline policy they also offered. Some of the most striking things I learned were the following:

  • Though neither policy covers losses while the vessel is being used illegally, in the Jackline policy there is no absolute requirement that the vessel be in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations whereas under the Concept policy coverage is void if you fail to comply with any applicable law or regulation.
  • With Jackline, additional living expenses incurred due to temporary loss of use of the vessel as a residence is covered.
  • Coverage of diving equipment is not restricted with Jackline as it is under the Concept policy.
  • Covered personal property includes money, jewelry, watches, furs, china, glass silverware, antiques, collectibles, computer software or valuable papers unlike the Concept policy which excludes such items from coverage.

The Jackline coverages were nice, but the price tag was not.

Renewing our policy with IMIS through Concept would have been easy but our deductible was substantially increased and Consequential Damage was not covered. A new, very important item to us.

Craig at Novamar (quoted through Seaworthy) provided a much lower quote than IMIS and did include Consequential Damage. Craig was very pleasant to work with and very helpful in providing answers to all of my new and tedious questions about marine insurance coverage. We were about to sign on with him until we found a different quote from Pegasus that offered coverage inside the box at no additional cost, whereas Novamar would have increased our premium by 20% for these navigational limits. If we didn’t plan to be inside the box during hurricane season next year we would have strongly considered Novamar.

I discussed all of our options with Peter and we both agreed that The Pegasus Group offered by far the best value. The policy was backed by Lloyds of London directly, cutting out the middleman insurance company, and has an excellent reputation and rating. The deductibles were much lower than our existing policy and all the other limits were comparable. In fact, the named storm deductible from Pegasus is lower than our regular deductible from IMIS!  Lloyds offers deductibles as low as any company will go, standard hull deductible of 2% and a hurricane deductible of 4%. Most importantly, Consequential Damage was covered, there was no additional charge for being liveaboards, and there was no additional premium hike for staying ‘inside the box’ during Hurricane Season!! As an added bonus, Pegasus accepts surveys done anywhere from 3-5 years ago, instead of the typical 2-year maximum for new customers applying to other marine insurance agencies/companies. This was a huge factor for us because our last survey was dated July 2013 and we didn’t plan to haul out again until 2016.

We were referred to Pegasus by our friends Skeeter and Amy. They live aboard Saltwhistle, another Whitby 42 that we’ve been traveling with during the last few months. Now, we also highly recommend Pegasus and if you’d like to contact Kent for a quote, please tell him we sent you!!

pegasusThe Pegasus Group
Kent Urbine
www.thepegasus-group.com
thepegasusgroup@outlook.com

New coverage was bound with Pegasus just in time for our last policy to lapse. We agreed on coverage with a day to spare and sent in payment soon after. Kent was extremely helpful and very fast. We are pleased to say the least.

Our story, however, doesn’t compare to our perfectly-timed referral, subsequent switch to Pegasus and thousands of dollars saved by our friends Brittany and Scott from Windtraveler. I had been chatting over facebook with Brittany one evening as Hurricane Danny was forecasted to be a direct hit on their boat, Asante. She briefly mentioned she was just dropped by her insurance company as they suddenly decided to discontinue coverage for liveaboards! With a hurricane on the horizon and no insurance on their boat, I immediately urged her to contact our new agent, Kent Urbine to see if he could help. She tells the incredible story best so click over and read it in her words to get the full effect 🙂

A little bit of advice directly from Kent:

ALL companies will deny claims if you give them a reason to. This is why it is important to go with an agency that specializes in marine insurance to make sure the coverage is set up right. The most frequent reason I see claims denied are for the following reasons:

  • People obtain a named operator policy and they let someone else operate the boat who is not approved.
  • They go outside their approved navigational limits/area. We get three or four calls a year from people who tell us “Well I’m back in Maryland after a safe trip from Tortola.” We then remind them that their policy only covered them while in the Caribbean.
  • We get many, many tender thefts. Tenders are covered for theft, however they have to be locked when not in use and they cannot be towed. They can be towed but they are not covered when towing.
  • We have a lot of people set up their policy for Pleasure and end up doing charters without changing to a commercial policy.

Please know that we are in no way sponsored by Pegasus, nor do we receive any compensation for referrals to The Pegasus Group. I’ve sifted through a lot of info while writing this post and the selection we made was based solely on our personal needs and circumstances. In my research I came across a lot of articles written by insurance companies that appeared to have a significant amount of bias and ulterior motives for making themselves sound good. Do your homework and consider the source.

If you’re shopping for boat insurance, I sincerely hope my research will help you make an educated decision before forking out that cash to pay your premium. I cannot stress enough that you should take the time to research the various insurance companies and insurance terminology to make sure you understand what you are paying for. If you don’t ask the questions, no one is going to tell you the truth!!

Check the forums, reach out on Facebook, and ask other boaters about their experiences. Ask detailed and thorough questions to your prospective insurance agents and don’t let them get away with vague answers. AllThingsBoat published an article about comparing boat insurance that you might find helpful while learning the terminology. The companies reviewed are not the only companies out there, but it’s a good starting point. The Pegasus Group also has a helpful explanation of most insurance jargon posted on their website.

Definitely do all you can to prevent disasters from happening, but also make sure you are protected – just in case!

If you have any helpful insight that I may have left out or if you simply want to share your experience, please leave a comment below!

Cruising BVI: Sandy Spit

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We couldn’t take Dad and Stacy to BVI without taking them to Sandy Spit just off of Jost Van Dyke.

This little spit of sand and reef has made numerous appearances in all the fancy in-flight and travel magazines. The aerial shot they use even looks like a heart. How romantic, right?

If you get here early enough you can beat the charter boat guests and take a leisurely stroll around the whole island in total privacy. With just a few lonely palm trees and some greenery in the center, the crystal clear water comes bubbling up on the white sand and you immediately feel like you’re in total paradise. The sand is littered with tiny pieces of white coral and a few little tiny shells. In the right light, the sand even appears a little pinkish in color.

The reefs don’t have very much sea life among them, but the water is warm, clear and so refreshing. True island bliss.

There’s so many gorgeous photos, I love them all!! Take a peek for yourself…

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Stacy even found a coconut lying on the beach!

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After enough fun on our own private island, we launched the dinghy and headed back to the boat for some lunch 🙂

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Want to see for yourself? Check back with us soon for some exciting news to learn how you can visit this very place!! 🙂

Hurricane Danny

AL0415W5_NLhttp://www.nhc.noaa.gov/cyclones/

Well folks, it’s that time of year. The hurricanes are upon us. This is our second season hunkering down in Grenada where we hope to be out of the path of most of the cyclonic activity. Why Grenada? Many other cruisers in the Caribbean choose to take their boats south of 12-degrees for four reasons.

  1. Many insurance companies will only cover you “outside the box” from June 1 to November 1.
  2. Everyone else does it.
  3. Grenada is very cruiser-friendly and it’s a fairly convenient place to spend a few months while hiding from hurricanes.
  4. It is statistically safer than anywhere else in the Eastern Caribbean. There is a really neat interactive tool on the NOAA website showing the tracks of all recorded hurricanes throughout history.

Atlantic_hurricane_tracks_1980-2005www.spaghettimodels.com

Though there have been some devastating direct hits on Grenada, such as Hurricane Ivan in 2004, we generally have ample time to head south to Trinidad before we would be in the path of something so evil. I wrote an article about Hurricanes on the Horizon the other day on TinyHouseBlog. It also includes some interesting info about Kick ‘Em Jenny, the underwater volcano that we sail dangerously close to on the way to Grenada. Yep, you read that right, underwater volcano! Not only to do we have to watch out for hurricanes, we have to make sure we don’t sail our boat over the top of an active volcano. Boats don’t float on gas bubbles 😉

kej_3http://www.uwiseismic.com/general.aspx?id=27

Not too long ago we saw a disturbance near the Cape Verde Islands off of Western Africa begin to grow. Along with everyone else in the Eastern Caribbean, our eyeballs were suctioned on to the screens of our laptop and iPhone as we watched it grow into a hurricane. This is the fourth named storm of the season, though the first that really had any danger of coming for us. Danny has been slow moving and very hard to predict. He is undoubtedly aimed at St. Martin, The Virgins and Puerto Rico now but forecasters think he will fizzle back down to a Tropical Storm by the time he makes landfall.

While Peter and I are relieved that we won’t feel any effects from Danny all the way down here in Grenada, our thoughts and prayers are with all of our friends that are up island in his path. Our good friend Genevieve on S/V Necesse gives a first-hand account of what it’s like to prepare and wait. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to ram your floating home up into the shallow, dark mud of the mangroves with your family and all your belongings; tie off to the roots like Spiderman; throw out every anchor and fender you have; remove every piece of canvas and projectile object from the exterior of your boat; hope that creepy crawlies like cockroaches, rats and other bugs don’t invade your boat; praying that the forces of Mother Nature take mercy on everyone around you.

04L_tracks_latestwww.tropicaltidbits.com

That’s the thing with a hurricane – you just never know what might happen. Danny may decide to veer North or fizzle out and all that may be felt is the normal trade winds of 20-30 knots of wind. The price we pay to live in paradise… At least with a hurricane we are semi-mobile on a boat. It’s a lot harder to run from a tornado or earthquake.

So we wait. While Danny makes up his mind about what he’s going to do, we are watching two new disturbances that are scrambling to catch up to big brother Danny. A perfect storm? Let’s hope not. They’ve got a pretty strong chance of cyclone formation within the next 5 days so we’ll be watching intently from our cozy boat.

two_atl_5d0www.nhc.noaa.gov

In the event that any named storms decide to put a bullseye on our bow, we’ll be referring back to some of our favorite resources on Commuter Cruiser and The Boat Galley here and here. Both Jan and Carolyn give some very helpful tips to keep in mind while preparing for a hurricane.

I have these posted on my Resources page, but if your curious what weather sites we like to check on a daily basis, here they are:

  • National Hurricane Center – Tropical weather advisories from NOAA/National Weather Service
  • Mike’s Weather Page – Up to date tropical computer models, graphics, links and storm discussions at www.spaghettimodels.com
  • Current Storm Info – Global Tropical Cyclone and Disturbance Info from Tropical Tidbits, including predicted intensity graphics
  • StormCarib Satellite Images – Particularly helpful to see the tropical waves and Saharan dust coming off Africa towards the Caribbean Islands
  • WunderMap – Interactive Weather Map and Radar from Weather Underground, with radar images for the Caribbean Islands
  • Weather Underground – Weather Forecasts and Reports
  • Windfinder – Wind and Waves
  • WindGuru – Wind and Waves

For the most current updates, click LIKE on our facebook page! That’s where we post all the daily happenings right now 🙂

Cruising BVI: The Baths (round 2)

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In December we took Dad and Stacy to visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda. It’s by far one of the most spectacular places to visit in the Virgin Islands. If the weather isn’t cooperating, however, it can be difficult to visit by boat. Dad and Stacy were in luck, the weather was just right to pick up a day-mooring and swim in.

Each time I visit The Baths it’s more breathtaking than the last. It could be that I’m always looking for a pretty picture and this place is plum-full of them! As if this weren’t photo-overload enough, check out the first post I did on The Baths for a totally different perspective.

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Stacy, Dad and I swam in and stashed our fins in the bushes. The inner-Tarzan in Dad made a swift and limber appearance as he scaled a nearby boulder to find the perfect spot. I stood back and laughed a little knowing full well I was NOT going to follow. That one was just a bit too steep for my short, stubby, little legs.

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In we go!

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Can you feel the magic? This place is incredible. I’m so glad we timed it just right. Well, we planned for the perfect timing but Island Time ended up working in our favor instead.

Let me backtrack a bit to several hours before.

Knowing full well we’d visit The Baths next, we left Norman Island in the afternoon and anchored off of the West side of Cooper Island. The plan was to pull up our anchor before daybreak for arrival at The Baths at first light. We wanted to make it extra special for Dad and Stacy and we wanted to make sure to get there plenty early enough. Early as in 6:45. We know it can get crazy in there once the cruise ship passengers and charter boat guests start to arrive between 8 and 10am. We wanted to make sure there was no one in front of us, and no one behind us as we explored this majestic place all by ourselves.

Well, lets just say things didn’t work out as smoothly as we’d like. I turned on the engine, then the chart plotter and radar. Peter made his way to the bow to pull in our anchor chain with the windlass. Dad and Stacy were just waking up and thought we were crazy for leaving in the dark, yet they were super excited for what was to come.

All of a sudden Peter stopped the windlass. Shit. The anchor was stuck. “Must be wrapped around a piece of coral,” Peter mumbled into the walkie-talkie.

He had me motor around in a few different directions to see if we could dislodge the chain. What seemed to be an eternity later, Peter decided he had to dive it. IN THE DARK. We were in about 50′ of water and the sun hadn’t even begun to come up yet. A little sharky? Yeah, I’d say so! Dad wasn’t too excited to jump in either. So, we waited another 30 minutes until there was a little daylight. Peter took his new super bright underwater flashlight and his spare-air, then asked Dad to assist. Peter planned to dive down and unwind the chain while Dad stayed on the surface with a mask to communicate with me if I needed to pop the engine forward a jib or do anything else at the helm.

Peter’s an excellent diver but he was not happy about this little hiccup. I wouldn’t want to be the one to do it either. We could have just waited it out until full daylight when it would have been much easier to see, but then we’d be visiting the baths with boatloads of other tourists and waiting in line to get from one area to another.

What a guy! It took some serious underwater skills to unwrap that chain from the huge underwater boulder we had somehow swung around at night, but he did it. We were a bit behind schedule, but we would still get there at about 9-am.

Okay, back to our amazing day at The Baths…

Thanks to Peter and Dad braving it out a few hours before, we managed to sneak into our destination without anyone in front of us and without anyone behind us!! SUCCESS!!

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It’s hard to see, but this stairway leads into a little pool of water brought in by the tide…

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A view of Mary Christine with the mizzen sail up for stability on a mooring ball just outside The Baths:

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I had showed them the secret area that not everyone gets to see, but now they had to come back out…

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We made a new friend. This little guy followed us along the trails all the way to Devil’s Bay Beach. He didn’t seem to belong to anyone but acted like he’d been here a thousand times.

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I almost caught a photo of this little dog leaping off the rock into the water! Dad was ready to get the photo too, though he didn’t make a second leap.

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Cool creatures everywhere.

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All in all, we had an amazing morning!

Don’t forget to see all the photos from my first time through: The Baths

What is ONE word you would use to describe this place?

Celebrating Island-Style

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This past December, Stacy got to celebrate her birthday Island Style! We did a quick tour of the British Virgin Islands and Norman Island is where we took her for a nice birthday dinner.

If you’ve been on a boat in BVI but have never visited The Pirate’s Bight restaurant, you’re missing out. It’s a bit pricey but not more than any other local restaurant in the popular anchorages and well worth the splurge. I wish I took more photos of this place but we were to busy enjoying the scenery.

The food is incredible, the atmosphere is beachy and ever-s0-charming, and they even had a Christmas tree decorated in the lobby! Even the dinghy dock is impressive. The white sandy beach is clean and inviting and far enough away from the craziness over at Willy-T’s. We definitely prefer the relaxed beachy feel 😉

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Before leaving Norman Island we took Dad and Stacy to The Caves and did a bit of snorkeling nearby. Gunner and Betsy even got to share nap-time with Grandpa! 😉

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It was a fun stop on the whirlwind tour but little did they know, Dad and Stacy still had some pretty amazing places to see before we sailed back to St. Thomas.

Stay tuned for some gorgeous photos of Dad and Stacy’s adventures in Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke! (I’m currently catching up on old posts from the anchorage here inTyrell Bay, Carriacou. We leave for Grenada in the morning!

Adventures With Dad & Stacy

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When Dad and Stacy came to visit last December they had a blast learning to use the hookah dive system, playing with the underwater metal detector that they brought for us, fishing and hunting for lobster. They had a pretty cool vacation in the Caribbean if you ask me 😉

Take a look at some of the underwater fun we had…

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We’re currently in Carriacou, making our way down to Mt. Hartman Bay in Grenada this week. We’ll be catching up on publishing a LOT of photos over the next two months… stay tuned for more!!

Time To Head South

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Well boys and girls, the time has come for us to begin our journey South again. Where has the time gone?! We are two months into “H” season and before August is upon us we want to get down to the Windward Islands where statistically fewer named storms travel through.

If a ‘big one’ comes, we can race down to Trinidad with a few hundred other cruisers who will be watching the weather with us several times a day. The forecast for this H season is very light so we’re not too worried, though we are always cautious.

A favorable weather window has opened beginning this Friday 6.17.15. We’ll leave cozy Christmas Cove and sail up to Virgin Gorda, then point toward Guadeloupe and beyond!

Last year we made this journey at the end of June. You may recall how our first time through the OH-MY-GOD-A (Anegada) Passage went, but if you’re new to our blog, be sure to take a few minutes and read it here —> http://wp.me/p41bpr-IO

We definitely hope for a less eventful and more restful passage this time around.

If all goes to plan, our buddy-boat Necesse will be traveling with us. Eben will be returning this Thursday from a wild and crazy sailing adventure off the coast of Tanzania so he may want to wait until the next weather window before they follow in our wake. Either way, we look forward to many new adventures down island with them!

Only another week or two and we’ll be back at our FAVORITE place in the Caribbean, The Tobago Cays!