Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 | MONTH IN REVIEW



Here's a quick summary of what we were up to this month.

  • We survived another tropical storm Don -- a short lived storm that brushed over the Windward islands on July 17th.
  • We finally re-sealed the front windows although it was a challenge with the constant rain.
  • We replaced the insulation on the engine cover.
  • After 8 long months, the engine is finally back in the engine bay, resting comfortably on the new engine mounts and {good news} the engine works! Having said that, we still have to replace the mixing elbow (it's too old, rusty and has a crack in it), re-seal a leak from the heat exchange cover (done) and replace the alternator regulator (it had a meltdown -- another item on our shopping list).
  • Very happy I finally converted the Caribbean string banner flags we ordered online into courtesy flags! I know this wasn't top priority on our long list of boat projects/repairs, but it was a nice break from working with epoxy, fiberglass and sikaflex. Looking forward to flying them in the Caribbean!
  • We added backing plates to the cleats at the front of the bows. Very tight space (even for tiny me); was not a pleasant job {but then again, when is a job ever pleasant on a boat?}. Hopefully we'll never have to do that again!
  • We also added backing plates on the winches in the cockpit. While securing one of the the backing plates, a bolt snapped in half! Our struggle with corrosion is real & ongoing.
  • It's Avocado season! We bought 3 large ones for $25 TTD (~$3.50 USD) usually at least $20 TTD each {best bargain ever!}.
  • On the entertainment front, we finished watching all 5 seasons of 'Breaking Bad' {4 years late}, but we're up-to-date with 'Better Call Saul' at Season 3.
  • We also met new friends Patrice, Veronique and Chacco (their beautiful dog -- so well trained) on S/Y Gran Largo. Thank you so much for having us onboard! Wish we could have a dog on Raptor too!

Check out our posts this month:

Installing Port Visors

How to DIY Courtesy Flags on the Cheap | Less Than $1 A Flag

How To Open A US Bank Account As A Tourist/Non Resident


June 2017 | MONTH IN REVIEW >>

 

Replaced Insulation on the Engine Cover
Re-sealed the Front Windows
DIY Courtesy Flags
Homemade "Shumai" with Turkey Mince
Avocado Season!
Friends on S/Y Gran Largo

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How To Open A US Bank Account As A Tourist/Non Resident

Opening a bank account in the US as a tourist/non-resident was not as difficult as we'd thought. Sure, we spent a lot of time looking around, searching for the bank that we could open an account with; not all banks in US are able or willing to open an account for tourists or someone without a social security number. 

There are thousands of banks in the US. We searched for a bank that required the least amount of minimum daily balance. Larger banks like Citibank and HSBC were happy to open an account for us, that is.. if we maintain a minimum daily balance of $25,000 and above! 

Needless to say, we did not go with them. We opened an account with Capital One bank (in New York), and then later with TD bank (in Florida). The process to open the accounts were similar.

What You Need: 
  • Be physically present at the bank
  • A passport  
  • An additional photo ID (e.g. driver's license)
  • A US address (we used a friends address)
  • A US phone number (we have a virtual US number with iPlum app) 
  • A recent copy of a bank/credit card statement or utility bill in your home country
  • Some cash to make an initial deposit

What You'll Get:
  • A welcome pack (i.e. paper work -- fee schedule, account maintenance information, etc)
  • A debit card
  • 3 cheques (if you need to pay anyone)
  • Access to online banking



One difference we noted was that we received the permanent debit card on the spot for TD bank, while Capital One gave us a temporary card and took about a week or two to send us the permanent one (to the US address -- which was not convenient for us).  

We had no issues using these cards at the stores or for online shopping.

Other Things to Note:
  • If you intend to use the card overseas, you'll need to inform the bank so that your card is activated for overseas usage.
  • Get your bank's Routing Number/SWIFT code (you'll need this for online bank transfers).
  • Remember to change your bank statements from paper to online. This saves you $1 per statement cycle (charges may differ for different banks), nothing gets sent to your US address and you'll help save the environment.
  • With a US bank account, you can open a US Paypal account as an option for online payment and fund transfers.

Why We Switched from Capital One to TD bank:
  • Capital One bank has less branches in US than TD bank. 
  • Capital One does not have branches in Florida (which we needed).
  • Read our post '6 Day Break in Florida'. 
  • The minimum balance for Capital One bank is $300 while TD bank is $100.
  • TD Bank has a pretty good online customer service support.
  • TD Bank has a refer-a-friend promotion (having said that, Capital One has it as well but with more T&C).

Last month, I opened a TD convenience checking account {mainly for my Amazon Associates which requires a US bank account}. The next day, Alex who already has an account with Capital One decided to be bank buddies; he figured it'd be easier to transfer funds to each other and also because TD has a lower min. daily balance than Capital One. So he opened the same checking account (referred by me), complied with the requirements for the refer-a-friend promo (see below) and within a month, we both got $25! :)

To get this, you'll need to know someone with a
TD bank account. If you're interested we'll be happy to share more on this with you. Just drop us a note.

Then, you simply need to either receive a direct debit or make 15 transactions on your debit card within 60 days of opening the account (which is easy to do). That's it!



Hope this helps. If you have any experience with opening a US bank account as a tourist/non-resident, we'd love to hear about it.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to DIY Courtesy Flags on the Cheap | Less Than $1 A Flag

Firstly, I'd like to thank S/V Wanderlust for their post on DIY Caribbean Courtesy Flags! 3 years ago, during the World Cup in Brazil, I noticed these string banner flags everywhere. I remember suggesting to Alex that perhaps we could get them and convert them into courtesy flags, but we didn't know where to get them at that time and we weren't sure of the quality either.

Imagine my delight when I found their post. After reading their experience, we felt more confident and bought ours on eBay for $19.77 USD; also available on Amazon. It comes in a set of 20 Caribbean country flags, at 18" x 12" per flag on 30ft of string.

To be honest, we never bothered too much about flying courtesy flags {not proud}. That's not to say we don't try to wherever we are but it's not always available (in good quality and at the right price!).
 
We know it's not proper etiquette not to fly one when we are visiting a foreign country, but an individual flag can cost around $10 USD each! For something that's for a one-time use and usually doesn't last very long; we'd almost always end up spending that $10 on something else. But with this method, at less than a dollar a flag, how could we resist?! 

When we cruise in a foreign country, it is a sign of respect and diplomacy to fly the native flag of the host country. Photo: Flying our Thai courtesy flag!
  1. Antigua & Barbuda
  2. Antilles
  3. Aruba
  4. Bahamas
  5. Barbados
  6. Belize
  7. Bermuda
  8. Cuba
  9. Dominican Republic
  10. Dominica
  11. Grenada
  12. Haiti
  13. Jamaica
  14. Martinique
  15. Puerto Rico
  16. Saint Kitts & Nevis
  17. St. Lucia
  18. Curacao
  19. Saint Vincent
  20. Trinidad & Tobago 
Comes in a row on a 30ft of string
Close Up of the Flags
Pretty decent quality
As I inspected the flags individually, I noticed some parts of the string were slightly twisted when it was sewn onto the flags. It doesn't affect the functionality of the flag {just hurts my eyes 😆 It's times like this I wish we had an iron onboard!} But not complaining at this price. 

Here's how we converted the string banner flags into courtesy flags.

What We Used
What You Need:

1. Scissors
2. Hammer
3. Hole cutter/punch (ours came with the Grommet tool set)
4. Grommet tool (consists of a top and bottom setting die, we have a size #2)
5. 40 Brass grommets (2 grommets/flag)
6. Pen/Pencil
7. Solid piece of wood
8. Lighter (optional)
9. Bit of extra material (optional) - we had some spare weblon type material which we decided to use where the grommet sits just to provide some extra strength {it's most definitely going to outlast the flag}.

What To Do:

1. Cut the string to separate the flags.
2. Sew the ends or lightly burn the edges to seal it from fraying. 

Step 1 & 2 - I sewed one flag (got lazy) and used the lighter to seal the edges for all the other flags
3. Mark where you want to place the grommets with a pen or pencil. I marked them around the same spot for each flag so that it'll be easy to keep them together with a split hinged ring.

Step 3
4. Punch out the holes with the hole cutter/punch & hammer on a solid piece of wood.

Step 4
Step 4 - If it doesn't punch out completely, use the scissors
5. (Optional step) If you decide to add material to provide extra strength around the hole, then you will need to punch holes in the material as well.

Step 5
Step 5
6. Place the extra material on both sides before inserting the grommet. The grommet (shank) should be placed on the bottom setting die, with the materials in the middle and the washer on the top.

Step 6
Step 6
7. Hammer the top setting punch to set the grommet in place. 

Step 7
 8. Ensure that the grommet is set properly. If it's not set, repeat step 7.

Step 8 - Top view
Step 8 - Bottom view
9. That's it! (repeat till you're done) 

DIY Courtesy Flags
Step 9 - That's it!
All we need to do now is to complete our boat projects/repairs and we're all set to sail the Caribbean! Woohoo! ;D

P/S: You can also get these string banner flags for Asia, Europe, South/Central America.


Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Europe: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland (eagle), Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland (lion), Scotland (cross), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and USA.

South/Central America: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.  

Note: The list of countries may vary, so check before you make your purchase. 

You can also get 40 Maritime Signal Flags on a string!

So excited, can't wait to fly these! I know it's still early but after the Caribbean, perhaps the South/Central America set next?

Hope this was useful. If you have any experience or idea on how to improve this. We'd love to hear from you. Happy sailing! 😃

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Installing Port Visors

As you know, sailing in the tropics means we're always in warm, humid areas with lots of rain. Opening and closing portlights (or portholes) every time it rains is a major pain, especially for short showers not to mention how stuffy the boat gets when there's no air ventilation. We know this is not a necessity as we have lived without them for years, but.. what's life if we can't splurge a little?

So, we decided to invest in some port visors. We searched online and were surprised that there weren't many options available. We ended up ordering from Seaworthy Goods, a company owned by two lifelong boaters (they seem to be the popular choice and featured in several blogs). They were friendly and quick to respond over email and are based in Florida, USA.

We were pleased we received the 6 visors in time (while we were in Florida for our '6 Day Break'). Each visor was packaged individually with instructions on how to install it and a small piece of scotch-brite scour. 

Individually packaged 19-R model (18" W x 3⅞" H x 3½" D)
The visors are made of tough, UV-resistant Lexan -- {apparently} unbreakable, transparent poly-carbonate. It's lightweight, weatherproof, scratch resistant, flame resistant and can withstand high impacts (250 times the impact strength of glass and 50 times that of acrylic). Super!

Comes with a mini scotch-brite scour and instructions
Back in Trinidad, our excitement soon dissipated as we opened each packaging to find that the port visors were very poorly finished -- rough and crooked edges. Only one out of the six pieces we received was somewhat "acceptable".

The overall product itself looks to be of good quality but really bad finishing
A ruler against the port visor to show how uneven it is
Installation Steps
A black speck in one of the visors
We smoothed out the edges ourselves with sandpaper. It's not a big job but it's time consuming; for the price of each visor, we expected some quality control {not happy but we'll live}. Maybe it was an oversight -- we were unlucky and got a bad batch?

On the bright side, the installation was indeed very simple. Per the instructions, we:

  • Cleaned the surface thoroughly with the scotch-brite scour and isopropyl alcohol (not acetone). 
  • Used a pencil to mark the placement of the visor before installation. 
  • Peeled off the 3M VHB red tape and pressed hard on the visor along the tape to ensure a good bond.
  • That's it! 

We initially used masking tape to determine the placement of the visor but later used a pencil to mark the placement instead
All done! It's advised that we cover at least ⅓ of the portlight to be effective
We've installed all the visors, they look good and we're very happy we don't have to drop everything to close the portlights each time it rains.

Our view with our portlights open on a rainy day
Ah.. the breeze is great! :)

Update: We wrote to Seaworthy Goods to give feedback on the portvisors we received. Instead of ignoring our email (like most companies do these days), Paula (one of the owners) was excellent; she not only responded to us during her holidays, apologized for not catching the trims, thanked us for the feedback but also gave us a refund for one port visor for our troubles. Thumbs up for their customer service.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

June 2017 | MONTH IN REVIEW


Here's a quick summary of what we were up to this month.

  • We flew to Miami, Florida for a 6 day break cum visa run on June 10th. It was a mad rush -- lots of driving around, searching for boat stuff, sorting out banking issues (read '6 Day Break in Florida' post).
  • We bit the bullet and got some port visors in Florida which we installed last week. Very happy I don't have to run around, opening and closing the portlights every time it rains.
  • We hired a car when we got back to Trinidad, believe it or not, it's cheaper than taking a taxi back to Chaguaramas at night. It's a minimum two day hire at $125 TTD/day -- shitty car, but does the job. We took the opportunity to explore the island the next day (for boat stuff {as usual} and a little sightseeing).
  • We drove all the way down to Pitch Lake, which is located Southeast of Trinidad, apparently the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world! To be honest, the drive was long and the place looks better in photos. 
  • We checked out Bhagwan Singhs, a huge hardware store kind of like Home Depot/Bunnings, located near the Piarco airport and bought some stainless steel bolts and washers.
  • We also watched 'Wonder Woman' at Trincity for $30 TTD/ticket (~$4.40 USD/ticket).  
  • We survived the tropical storm Bret on June 19th. It was announced all over the radio, schools and banks were declared closed; thankfully it passed through Chaguaramas overnight with gusts of winds no more than 40 kts.
  • With the rainy season upon us, it makes it extra hard for us to work on the deck; but we managed to re-seal the chainplates and side windows in the saloon. Just the front ones and all other deck fittings to go!
  • Oh, and we now have a 6 months visa in Trinidad.
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Sunday, June 25, 2017

6 Day Break in Florida

Been back in Trinidad for a couple of weeks now with a six months visa. Just 6 days in Florida, what were we thinking?! It was a mad, mad rush driving from one place to another. Picking up boat parts, shopping for boat stuff, sorting out banking issues and sadly no time for sightseeing; not even the beach, but.. most importantly we made time to stock up on chocolate! {priorities!}

Just for fun, I'm going to describe our Day 0 in numbers. 
- 10.06.2017 was the day we flew out from Port of Spain (POS) to Miami (MIA).
- 3½ hours was how long our flight from POS, Trinidad was delayed.
- 22:30 was when we arrived in Miami.
- 1 hour was how long it took us to pick up our rental car.
- 370 km was the distance we drove from Miami to Sarasota.
- 03:57 was when we arrived at our accommodation in Sarasota.
There you have it. A day in numbers ;)

Our rental car in Florida (from Budget)
Day 1: Still exhausted from the day the before. We decided to take it easy and had a relaxing day. We checked out the supermarkets in the area such as Whole Foods, Publix and Trader Joes {we really enjoy checking out supermarkets}. Look at the lovely selection of fruits! We indulged ourselves with nectarines, apricots and cherries!

Fruits galore @ Whole Foods
Just a photo of all the beers available and possible bottle caps!
p/s: I love taking photos of bottle caps I find on the streets (but none this time)
{Like kids in a candy store} We also bought a slab of Alaskan wild caught sockeye salmon, asparagus, corn, crackers, brie with mushroom, hard salami & liverwurst for dinner!

Salami, Brie with Mushroom, Crackers and Liverwurst
Home cooked Wild Caught Sockeye Salmon - Yum!
Day 2: We drove up to Clearwater Bay (near Tampa) which is approximately 94 km north of Sarasota in search of a fabric store that Alex found online. We were looking for a very specific material called Serge Ferrari Precontraint to make a new sail drive leg cover. 

As luck would have it, they did not have the colour we wanted in store but we found an offcut piece for just $10/yard albeit in an awful light green! Oh well, we were happy we saved $20/yard and even got some free remnants of Sunbrella material to make cushion covers! 

Somewhere in Tampa
That evening, we drove back to Sarasota for dinner with our friend Jim, whom we met in Sabah, Malaysia several years ago and met his lovely wife Tamara. It was a delightful evening and we also had a deliciously home made pasta meal in their beautiful home. Thank you both so very much for accommodating us. Our time in Sarasota was wonderful.

Day 3: We made a quick stop at West Marine, a chandlery in Sarasota before heading back to Miami but didn't find anything we really needed as we had already bought most of what we wanted online and shipped to ourselves here in Sarasota and Miami.

Our airbnb accommodation in North Miami
We got to Miami at 7pm, picked up the keys to our accommodation and went for dinner at Capri Japanese & Italian restaurant. About a week before our trip, I was hoping we could find some good deals like we did last year. Read our 'Groupon Our Travel Buddy' post.

We were very excited when we found a deal for a Japanese restaurant although it's really a Japanese & Italian restaurant. But the reviews for the sushi were good so we went ahead with the purchase anyway.  

Unfortunately, the sushi was like mush! Maybe they had a bad night, maybe we were unlucky, maybe we should've known when we were the only customers there, maybe it was their first time serving customers food with broken porcelain, who knows.. but we were definitely disappointed with the food and service.

Coral Gables - Nice Neighbourhood
Day 4 & 5: The mad rush begins, when 24 hours a day is just not enough. The days we spent trying (in vain) to sort out our banking issues. Last year Alex opened an account with Capital One bank in New York. Little did we know that there are no Capital One branches in Florida. So having transferred some funds from Australia to his Capital One account, we wanted to get some cash out for our travels in the Caribbean. You'd think it would be an easy task! But our experience proved otherwise..

We spent two days running around from bank to bank, talking to Bank Tellers, calling Customer Service & the bank's Fraud Team.  

Here's what we learnt: 

- You cannot easily transfer funds from one bank to another (within the US).
- You cannot easily transfer funds from one person to another.
- You cannot rely on what Customer Service tells you.
- You cannot withdraw cash over the counter via "cash advance" with your debit card (despite what Customer Service suggests). 
- The withdrawal limit at the ATM per day is only $610 for Capital One bank, and of course they have no ATMs in Florida, so you will be charged lots of fees to use another Bank's ATM.
- The bank can put your money transfer on hold for up to 10 days.
- If you try to transfer your money out of the bank to someone other than yourself the Fraud Team freezes your account ... in fact if you do almost anything, the Fraud Team freezes your account. Ours was frozen 3 times in just 2 days - each time necessitating a call to the bank, and a lengthy wait to speak to someone.

You can, however, get cashback at stores e.g. Home Depot (max $50), Walmart (max $100), Aldi (max $200) per transaction. And it seems this is considered a "purchase", so does not count towards your max daily withdrawal amount.

What's a cashback? "It's a service offered by stores to its customers whereby an amount is added to the total purchase price of a transaction paid by debit card and the customer receives that amount in cash along with the purchase." {but I'm sure you already know this}

What we think of 'em banks
Perhaps if we had more time in US, we could have found a better solution. But since our time was limited..

Here's what we did:

- Used cashback option at the stores.
- Bought money orders at the US Post Office (USPS) and had a friend cash it for us.

A lot of time, effort, research, merry-go-round, trial and error to get our cash but very glad we managed to sort it out in time.

In between all that, we bought a mixing elbow for our Yanmar engine, a pulley for our alternator (near Fort Lauderdale), and chocolates (from Aldi) lots of it! :)

So busy running around, we missed a couple of meals but we were able to grab a late lunch at DA Burger Shack on Day 4.

DA Bomb Burger
Groupon Deal - $7.50 for $20 value at DA Burger Shack
9753 Southwest 72nd Street, Miami, FL 33173
For $20, we ordered two DA Bomb burgers with fries and drinks! DA Bomb is topped with sauteed onions, pepper jack cheese, apple smoked bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato, chipotle mayo, and jalapenos. The patty was nice and thick, but slightly overdone and avocados were crunchy.

Didn't have time for lunch on Day 5, but we managed to have dinner at Spris Artisan Pizza, located at South Beach. A nice place to people watch.

Lincold Rd, South Beach
Groupon Deal - $13 for $25 value
731 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Day 6: 16th June, our last day in Miami. We met up with Mike (a long time family friend) at the US Post Office to sort out the money orders/cash and went to Sushi Express by Yakko San for lunch. I wish we had asked Mike on places to eat in Miami earlier! Would've eaten here everyday! A lovely catch up and meal to end our trip.

Thanks Mike for all your help!
Sushi Express by Yakko San, 17040-46 W Dixie Hwy, North Miami Beach

Us at the airport. Goodbye Miami!
Our flight departed Miami on time at 17:40, we arrived in Port of Spain at 22:30. Thankful we went through Immigration and Customs with no issues. Crazy as it may sound, but I was kinda glad to be back from our 6 day "break" cum visa run.

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