Category Archives: Product Review

New Family Vehicle

One of the many things we decided prior to departure was to replace our old dinghy, a twelve-foot fiberglass-bottom inflatable AB, with a 2001 Mercury two-stroke 25hp. We were finding leaks and having to pump it up every few days. Because its days were numbered, we opted to buy a new one before leaving for an extended voyage. We eventually decided to go with the thirteen-foot aluminum AB, and bought a fuel-injected four-stroke Suzuki 30hp to power it.

Some of the differences are that the Suzuki has a lever shifter instead of the Mercury’s twist-shift, it doesn’t have a tiller extension, and you don’t have to mix the gas with the oil. Our motor is one of the newer models, with a built-in computer that tells us when to change the oil, and when it is getting too hot. It doesn’t get on a plane as easily with the whole family aboard (even with a hydro-foil), probably because the old dinghy had a custom prop. The new dinghy has more internal volume, and can carry all the necessary groceries, laundry, or snorkel gear wherever it needs to go. It can go at greater speeds through rougher seas than the old dinghy could, and instead of slamming, the deeper V-shape of the hull helps cut through the waves and makes the ride more comfortable. We have yet to try taking the hookah in the dinghy, but so far, it has proven itself worthy of the crew of Take Two.

Dive Boat

Little Red Wagon

I’ve got a new little red wagon, but it isn’t a Radio Flyer. I borrowed a Mac Sports Folding Utility Wagon from a fellow boater in St. Augustine (thank you, Tiki Trek!) to fetch provisions one day and knew I had found the perfect vehicle. For years I have carted laundry and groceries in a folding and rusting metal cart (the granny kind) that never holds enough stuff and is just the perfect size and shape to always be in the way wherever you try to store it.
The FUW, on the other hand, folds into a neat little square which fits into its own bag and stows nicely in one of our aft lazarettes. We ordered ours from Dick’, for about $70. It can carry up to 150 pounds—that’s a lot of groceries—and it folds and unfolds in the blink of an eye. The fabric is a sturdy synthetic canvas and the frame is steel. The oval-shaped handle telescopes and snaps into place, and there are even two pockets on the front for water bottles or small items. The wheels are hard rubber, and with the front two articulating, turning sharp corners with a heavy load is not a problem.
The only drawbacks I have discovered are that it’s heavy (the tradeoff for durability, I guess), and that the wheels don’t have locking brakes, which makes it a little tricky if you stop on a slope or when you fold it to put on the cover. The instructions state multiple times that the wagon is not to be used as a conveyance for small people, but my small person has already climbed in on top of the laundry for a ride with no ill effects. The metal frame makes it seem uncomfortable, and the warnings make it clear that you can’t sue Mac Sports if your tot falls out of the wagon or gets his little fingers pinched in the folding mechanism. Aside from these minor concerns, the wagon is a new favorite and draws compliments wherever I take it.

Into the Rabbit Hole

Oh, how I look forward to long, boring passages. Really. Time seems to telescope as the instruments count the tenths of nautical miles to the destination. And what shall we do with all this time? Eat very slowly? Talk? Read aloud by the hour? Fish? Watch the fabric of the ocean for the interruption of flying fish or the dolphins of Happiness—or, maybe, if we’re lucky, a whale? Stare lovingly into the deep-blue water and wonder, "what are those specks floating all over the place?" This morning, as we glided over the glassy surface of the Gulf Stream, for lack of anything better to do, I grabbed a bucketful of water, dug the microscope out of the science bin, found some slides, a petri dish, and an eyedropper and opened the Ocean Lab.


This morning’s victim was what I might call a “Floating Puffball from Inner Space.” I suspected it to be algae of some sort. It was a globe of greenish-brown with fine hair sticking out in all directions, about the size of a poppy seed. I sucked it up into the eyedropper and deposited it on a slide in a drop of water. At 40X, it looked like a mass of very fine tangled hair. At 100X, I began to see other, smaller things moving in and out among the hairs, and at 400X, the thing looked like a forest with small animals running in and out of the trees, changing direction mid-stream, diving and flying between the foliage. Each tree trunk was a hair—it was only a few cells thick, and it was clear from the cellular structure that it was plant-kind, but there was movement within each stalk and each moved like a tree waving slowly in a breeze. The tiny one-celled creatures within the forest of algal stems moved with incredible speed and energy. I felt like I was looking at Horton’s Whos down in Whoville. It was mesmerizing.

Once, at a local farmer’s market, I bought a head of heirloom broccoli, not because I wanted to eat it, but because I wanted to look at it up close: its stalk was a perfect spiral staircase of florets, with each floret a perfect spiral of buds, and each bud, in turn, a spiral. It was a perfect fractal repeating to the microscopic level. We have, for school and for fun, looked at inner cheek skin cells (animal), onion skin (vegetable), salt crystals (mineral), a honey bee’s stinger (barbs on barbs!), tiny brine shrimp (with compound eyes), the statue of Lincoln inside his Washington D.C. Memorial (on a penny), no-see-ums (look at those jaws!), hairy spider legs, fleas, and anything else we could capture and study. The C & A Scientific “My First Lab” Duo-Scope portable microscope with battery-operated LED bulbs (allowing you to look at both opaque and translucent objects) is probably the best science purchase we have ever made. It is so easy to use that even the youngest of our children has been able to view the tiny things on the slide—with the instant reward of discovering something strange and new.

The more I stare at that bright circle at the bottom of the dark tube into the magical world of the unseen things, the more I wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes. If a tiny alga can be home to animals as numerous as squirrels in the woods, what else can be possible? I read that we are, by genetic material, only one percent human. That makes me a planet-home to microbes more numerous than the population of humans on earth. Is everything a microcosm—a world inside a world? I feel like a peeping Tom peering in at a Creation too great for my limited intellect. This is usually the point at which I have to put the microscope away and look at the horizon because I suddenly feel a bit dizzy.


The Best Ice Cube Trays

This may seem like a frivolous thing to write about, but when freezer space is so limited and ice cube trays prove to be just one more piece of plastic here today and on a trash heap tomorrow—and for the next hundred years—it becomes meaningful. After doing some research at Amazon and reading lots of reviews, finding people who did even more ridiculous amounts of research, we concluded that OXO makes the best ice cube trays around. I’m not surprised, as we have several “best” kitchen gadgets from OXO.  We’ve used the trays for a couple of months and I would have to agree that they are the best I have ever had. I bought five stacking trays, which provide enough ice for cold drinks and a daily smoothie.

Perhaps at this point you are wondering, what could be so special about an ice cube tray? (Or, even, who knew you could make ice on a sailboat?) Well, let me tell you! The OXO Good Grips No Spill Ice Cube Tray has a revolutionary shape which makes getting the cubes out of the tray very easy. My old Rubbermaid trays were very sturdy and lasted a long time, but eventually the bending and flexing necessary to get the square cubes out caused the plastic to crack and break. Not so with the Oxo—simply twist lightly and the half-moon shaped ice cubes pop right out.

Cruiser Diamonds

The trays have a silicone cover, which is a unique and never-before-seen feature. You fill the tray, lay the cover over the top and lightly press while tilting to pour off any excess water and seal the tray. A vacuum effect results, and the covered cubes can now be placed inside the freezer, and will not leak or spill, even if they are tilted or placed on an uneven surface. This proves to be especially helpful on a boat. When we are on a passage, we tend to use a lot of ice in drinks, and I usually can’t make more because of the motion of the boat. With these trays, the rocking and rolling doesn’t affect the outcome.

Granted, this whole discussion of the best ice cube trays becomes moot if you live on the average small cruising boat. We’ve met lots of people out cruising who live without refrigeration at all and for whom a cold drink is a special treat, and a frozen beverage something you pay $8 for in a restaurant. For us this question of refrigeration highlights a difference between living comfortably and camping. When we make decisions about our boat, they are decisions about our home and our lives for the foreseeable future, so although we like the idea of traveling light and living simply, we balance that with long-term comfort. And a daily smoothie is part of our healthy lifestyle, so big inverters for the fancy blender and plenty of ice cubes are a must. We had lots of fun opportunities in the Bahamas to invite friends from other boats over and serve them icy drinks and frozen concoctions, much to their amazement and delight. That’s what it’s all about! Now if only I could get one of my crafty kids to make some tiny paper umbrellas…

Still Thriving

A quick update on our experiment with freeze dried Thrive foods: they’re even better than I had hoped. We’ve been gone one month now; the freezer is almost empty, the fresh food we bought in Marathon is long gone, we have some canned beans and tomatoes, but we are still eating like kings! Between the freeze dried food and the whole grains we carry, we have an incredible variety of menu options. We are now nearer to civilization, so we have access to island markets (supplies limited between mail boats), but normally at this point in a trip we’d be stuck with simpler options like oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, PBJs for lunch, and rice and beans or spaghetti for dinner. I feel an unspeakable joy to serve a dish with all the colors and aromas of fresh fruits and veggies when I’m hundreds of miles from the closest farmer’s market.

Some of the dishes in which I have used Thrive foods (in parentheses) include: BBQ chicken pizza (chicken), spaghetti with meat sauce (beef crumbles), pepperoni pizza appetizers  (mozzarella), baked potato soup (potatoes, celery, broccoli, onions and cheddar cheese, milk and sour cream), baked oatmeal (green apples, eggs, milk), minestrone soup (corn, peas, spinach, green beans, carrots, onions, bell peppers), pancakes with berry compote (eggs, milk, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries), sausage and cheese griddle bread (sausage crumbles, cheddar), frittata (sausage crumbles, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, bell peppers, onions, cheddar), chili (bell peppers, onions, beef crumbles) and chicken and dumplings (celery, onions, carrots, peas, green beans). 

Where they excel is in one-dish dinners—simply throw in a handful of this and a handful of that and voilá! Gourmet meals in minutes. Limitations might be that I didn’t carry enough fruit (we could have been drinking smoothies this whole time!), and that the vegetables and meats are best used as ingredients and not served as a side dish (for example, it would be better to put the green beans in a casserole than to cook and eat them alone). One reason may be that when you rehydrate veggies or meats in some kind of broth, they take on the flavor of the dish and taste that much better. The only exception is butter powder: I wouldn’t sauté anything in it, but reconstituted with a little bit of water and expeller-pressed coconut oil, it becomes the most wonderful spread for fresh-baked bread or pancakes. A quick survey of the crew of Take Two would find them very satisfied with dishes coming out of our galley, with my Thrive substitutions virtually indistinguishable from fresh ingredients in favorite recipes.

Pots and Pans

Very few pieces of gear on our boat get as much use as the pots and pans in the galley. In addition to my treasured cast iron skillet set, I have nesting stainless steel pots by Galleyware. I’ve had them for several years now, and aside from a few dings (from kids using them as drums), they are in good shape. The detachable handles aren’t doing so well, though, and when I looked at the replacement parts at , I saw that they had improved the design of the set and the way the handles attach/detach, so I decided to replace the pots and pans entirely. And boy, am I glad I did!


I love these pots and pans. There are 12 pieces in the $138 set: a stock pot, a skillet (which can also serve as a cover for the stock pot), a 3-qt. pot, a 2 1/2-qt. pot, a 2 quart pot, 2 detachable handles, a large universal lid, and 4 plastic covers for storing leftovers. I also bought a small universal lid which fits the three smaller pots. They are made of heavy, marine-grade stainless steel, with an aluminum core for good heat distribution. The whole set nests neatly in the stock pot and fits in a drawer. One of my favorite features of this particular brand is the plastic storage lids; you can detach the handle, cover the pot and stick it in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch, making leftovers easy to warm up.



This product is tried and tested—one I can recommend wholeheartedly to those who own boats or RVs or who simply want to reduce clutter and save space. For what it’s worth, these pots and pans get the Take Two seal of approval.

These Shoes Were Made For Walking

…And hiking, and sailing, and biking, and spelunking, and playing ball. I have found the best shoes for our traveling lifestyle. Two-and-a-half years ago, I bought two pairs of ECCO Yucatan sandals, in black and brown. At a hundred dollars a pair, they were pricey for sandals, but since we sold the house and gave away all my other shoes, I needed something  to wear that would be versatile, attractive and durable. Those shoes saw a lot of diverse mileage, I can tell you. And they survived a pregnancy, which is a feat. I recently replaced them…with two new pairs of ECCO Yucatan sandals, in black and brown.

They are extremely comfortable, have great traction and support, and are cute to boot. I know lots of people swear by TEVAs (Jay has a pair of flip-flops, complete with scuppers), but I’ve never heard of a TEVA lasting for 2 ½ years of daily use! Jay replaces his about once a year, and they spend the last couple of months outside because the foot bed eventually takes on a distinctive aroma.

Because children are so hard on shoes, grow so fast and spend so much time barefoot, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on their footwear. The best option for them is the Croc. Waterproof, relatively inexpensive, comfortable, quick and easy, the Crocs live in a basket outside the door, and the kids can grab them and go and be ready in an instant. They usually grow through about two pairs each year, and ordering online and shipping them wherever we are means we can avoid going on the dreaded shoe-shopping trip.

One thing we love about our lifestyle is its simplicity. Less stuff means less clutter, less to keep track of, and less to take care of. That goes for everything from head to toe—or I should say, buzz cuts to Crocs.

The Mercedes-Benz of Pressure Cookers

Having the right tools in the galley is essential to making great meals on a boat. I have written elsewhere about how much I love my Vitamix blender/grinder and my Foodsaver vacuum-sealer, but the newest addition, a Kuhn-Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker, may end up being my favorite.

The Swiss engineers at Kuhn-Rikon are obviously very proud of their product, congratulating the purchaser for buying “the Mercedes-Benz of pressure cookers.” Of course, that implies that it was expensive, but it was also the only pressure cooker that met my requirements: it is a 12-quart, stainless steel, 2-pressure-setting beast of a pot. It has won a prominent spot in the corner of the galley, more because I have nowhere else to put something so large than because I am particularly proud of it. Also, unless an appliance is easy to come by, it will get neglected due to the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” syndrome.

I was always a slow-cooker kind of girl, but the crock-pot and the boat’s electric system used to have the occasional disagreement that led to ruining dinner. I knew many boaters had pressure cookers instead of crock pots, and now I know why. So far, I am very pleased with it. I am incredulous how quickly it cooks things that used to take forever—a chicken, for example—which takes almost two hours in the oven, took only 20 minutes to pressure-cook! And with the carcass, I made a bone broth in about an hour, something that I used to simmer overnight when we lived in a house and didn’t worry about conserving fuel. I have also made a pot roast, a rice pudding, Boston “baked” beans, a 20-minute meatloaf, butternut squash, potatoes, and a few soups. Though I have not (yet) noticed fuel savings, I have noticed that the galley doesn’t get as hot as when I use the oven, especially if I take the pot to the cockpit to de-pressurize.

Other uses for the pressure cooker about which I am excited are canning and sterilizing. I have up until now only done boiling-water canning with jams and other acidic items. Pressure canning allows me to can soups, meats, and vegetables. Not that I am planning a big canning spree, but you never know. When we did our emergency medical training, we learned that surgical instruments can be easily sterilized using pressurized steam. Hopefully I won’t need to do that, but now I can.

I am not only looking forward to modifying my favorite recipes for the pressure cooker, but also trying some new things, like pork shoulder for BBQ, black beans and rice, corned beef and cabbage, and the world’s-best creamy coconut flan for which my friend Chachi gave me a flan pan and recipe at Christmas (thank you)! While I wish I had known about the pressure cooker before now, I’m not sure I would have used it when I lived in the house. An oven with a timer and a slow-cooker may have made the pressure-cooker overkill. And, unless someone is cooking for a crowd, a cooker as large as mine is unnecessary. Lots of fellow boaters swear by these pots, and it has certainly earned a place in our galley. Initially we were resistant to buying one, but now that we have it we can’t figure out what we would do without it.

PFD Review

For those of you outside of boating, PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device, or, in plain English, life jacket. Everyone in our family has one, though they are all slightly different. We’ve had several types, and since we spend a good bit of the time underway wearing them, we’ve searched and researched until we’ve found ones that place safety and comfort at the top of the list. Jay has a Mustang Survival Type V Inflatable jacket with a hydrostatic gauge and D-rings for a harness. Mine is similar, a West Marine Brand inflatable vest, which I find only slightly uncomfortable, and which does not have D-rings for a harness. It is a lovely shade of lavender, though. We only wear ours when sailing at night or when on watch by ourselves, or during rough weather.

The kids, on the other hand, wear their life jackets any time they step out of the door and into the cockpit when we’re underway. Their life jackets, with the exception of the infant jacket, are Mustang Survival Type II Children’s life vests. The 30-50 pound jacket zips and fastens through the legs with webbing, and also has a flotation “pillow” behind the head with a webbing strap, designed to help a small person stay face up in the water, and be easy to grab. The other jackets are 50-90 pound vests and have zip closures without the crotch strap or pillow. They are nylon with mesh sides for ventilation and we rarely hear complaints about their being uncomfortable. Of course, it wouldn’t do any good to complain, anyway, but the four older kids are able to go about their business without impediment while wearing them. Jay customized them with reflective tape last year and a kid would light up like Christmas if we had to find one in the dark with a flashlight.


Rachel poses a bit of a problem when it comes to life jackets. She’s too little to understand why she must wear one, and the most vocal when uncomfortable. The nylon one we had for infants to 30 pounds simply swallowed her up and was so bulky it was hard to hold onto her when she was in it. Plus she screamed the whole time she wore it. The neoprene life jacket (HO Sports), on the other hand, was much smaller and seemed a lot more comfortable. The one disadvantage we noticed is that it doesn’t breathe and she got really sweaty wearing it. But until she gets bigger and grows into the yellow Mustang, we’re happy with the softer neoprene one and recommend it for the smallest sailors.

Splendide Indeed

After having used the Italian-made Splendide marine washer/dryer for about a month now, I feel comfortable offering praise for it and have only a few reservations. First, some recommendations—if you’re in the market for a washer/dryer unit on your boat, the Splendide does live up to its name, presuming you get the vented model (the un-vented one leaves clothing feeling damp), and have budgeted for power and water usage, and have it plumbed to dump the gray water directly overboard. Jay had initially hooked it up so it drained into the bilge (for convenient installation), but that didn’t work and he had to come up with a better solution.

The Splendide appears to be very energy efficient and uses water conservatively. It takes very little soap. It gets clothing cleaner than I could ever do by hand and does a great job on Rachel’s diapers, provided I run a rinse/spin cycle before washing. It is easy to use once you figure out their system (I have a cycle description cheat sheet), and it is extremely quiet.  The load size is significantly smaller than a normal household machine, but then so were the loads I would stuff into the Wonder Wash. This thing makes life on Take Two so much easier. At the dock, I’m no longer tied to the laundry room all day and on the hook I will not have to wash clothes by hand, though we will probably use the lifelines instead of the machine to dry them.

The small reservations I have revolve around my not knowing how it will behave once we are “off the grid.” Will we have to run the generator while it’s washing? Will the water pumps supply the water it wants? How much more water will we be using than before (or how much less)? My one tiny complaint is that it’s hard to do sheets and towels because they are inherently larger loads. Also, it takes a really long time to do its job, so running more than one or two loads a day isn’t really feasible. Aside from these concerns, I am completely satisfied and regularly thank Jay for installing it—I know I’m not supposed to love an inanimate object, but this thing really is my new best friend.