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NIKON D5: A Guide for Beginners
NIKON D5: A Guide for Beginners
by Scott Casterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.99
15 used & new from $5.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars D5 for beginners? Who is the audience?, April 16, 2016
Okay, I just had to laugh. Are there beginners who plan to start learning photography on a $6,500 DSLR designed for use by paparazzi, advanced sports and nature photographers, or war zone reporters?

The description of this book refers to issues of income taxation, which I suppose might arguably interest D5 owners. However, it doesn't give much of a clue as to how good a description of the D5 might be in the volume.

The excerpt provided with the inside the book review was essentially blank other than the cover page.

Search inside the book yielded only one (1) occurrence of the phrase "autofocus". Thom Hogan's description of the autofocus system in his D3s and D800 books took, if my memory serves, over 100 solid pages. I thought of spending $3.99 just for fun to see whether the rest of the book lived up to the less than one page of autofocus info, but in the end I decided it wasn't worth it.

What I found out is enough to recommend that you stay away, at least until the description and excerpt are fixed.

Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice
Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice
by Nikhil Goyal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.54
81 used & new from $6.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, provocative, and ... in the end ... wrong., April 16, 2016
The author of this book is not too long out of school, and he still feels the sting of contemporary education. Our educational system, he says, works like a jail, tacitly encourages bullying, and thus makes learning punishment. No wonder students hate school and don't learn.

That's the basic thesis of the first part of the book, and the argument is totally convincing to me. Others, like John Taylor Gatto, have made it in enormously more detail, but I think it's great to have a student perspective.

The next part of the book says that traditional school systems and teachers are underfunded and teachers are the good folks. That seems to contradict everything said in the first part, which strikes me as distinctly odd. If traditional school systems are underfunded but have noble intentions, and teachers are fine, the implication is that the system is basically good. But in the first chapter we hear that it's terrible and degrading. So which is true?

I think what bothers me the most about this book is that there is an obvious solution to his problem with education, and he doesn't just ignore it, he flat out rejects it. Let me explain.

The schools that teach as he recommends are private or charter. They are perceived as risky because they are highly unusual in their operation – they give the students the power to study and do as they please. Through this students spontaneously learn and grow. He presents the results as far superior to those in regular schools. I have read about this and the ideas behind it are sound, with impressive results for many students.

One of those schools is the Sudbury Valley School. In a book I read on the history of this school, there is a pitched battle between two camps: The people who like the school as it was designed, as a "Free school" and those who wanted to see structured features such existing in other schools. The school was split apart and almost destroyed by the fight between these two factions.

There is another type of school, epitomized by the Success Academy chain. The author hates this institution. Discipline is strict. People are tossed out if they disobey the rules. Interestingly enough, many students love the structure that Success Academy provides. They know what is expected of them, and they perform.

Graduates of both Sudbury schools and Success schools have above average college attendance and graduation rates.

The implication of all this to me is that some students benefit from the Sudbury Valley model, and others do better at places like Success Academy. Generally speaking, affluent kids who have had significant support from their parents do better at free schools, while poor kids who have little parental support or guidance do better at strict places like Success.

In short, there is no one size fits all solution. We are all distinct, and different, and can benefit from different kinds of education.

How do you do that?

It's simple.

Give every parent a voucher that would pay for tuition for the school of their choice. Fans of the Sudbury approach would choose that type of school, while those who felt their kids needed structure and discipline would choose a place like Success.

Every child gets what they want and need.

So in my opinion the author is tremendously misguided in his rejection of vouchers. Vouchers gives students the flexibility they need to properly choose their path. His suggestion that, with tremendous effort, we could make public schools into Sudbury Valley strikes me as basically impossible. The only way to introduce these ideas is through vouchers and/or charters. That way, these ideas are tried and used one pupil at a time, at no risk to the broader society. As these ideas become more popular more people will be educated that way, perhaps, eventually, the majority.

In short, this is an interesting book that brings up a lot of useful ideas that I think are not familiar to many people. This perspective is well worth reading and understanding, even if he rejects the obvious solution to his dilemma, while supporting one that is inflexible and bureaucratic. Just like current schools, in fact ...

Nikon D5 20.8 MP FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body (CF Version)
Nikon D5 20.8 MP FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body (CF Version)
Price: $6,496.95

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A big, beautiful fast demon of a camera :), April 8, 2016
The Nikon D5 is, of course, Nikon's top-line DSLR, designed primarily for high-speed photojournalistic shots and extreme low light. It is a big and heavy beast of a camera.

The camera is a thing of beauty, or at least stunning presence and quality. Be the envy of friends and major governments and political candidates. People love to pose and perform for it, because they know it's awesome. But there is substance, too – it takes gorgeous pictures in just about every shooting condition you can throw at it.

You may want to buy this camera because it's the best camera Nikon makes. Actually, it is a very specialized tool. If you want to shoot landscapes or quiet and still nature, consider the D810 instead. It's half the price and gives you almost double the resolution, which is what you need. The D5 is what you need if you want to get the moment Britney Spears flashes, the time the alligator crashes over the berm and you were there to get it, or the fleeing glimpse of every nuance of the musician's performance.

Even if you can easily afford this camera, and want to shoot action, make sure it is suitable for you. Before you buy, try and hold it (or the similarly big and heavy D4S or D4) and see how it feels in your hand. You may find it too large and heavy for your personal use case, in which case you should put it back on the shelf and consider the cheaper, crop sensor D500. Or you may find it just right, in which case you will love it :).

I love the way it feels in my hand – it really balances beautifully especially with lenses like the 24-70 f/2.8 with which I do most of my people photography.

Superior high-ISO image quality

With the nightclubs I shoot in getting increasingly dark, I really wanted a better high ISO camera than the D4 that I still own. This was particularly so since the D810 seemed to be catching up. It was time for a change, especially since my D4 has gone through 475,000 plus shutter actuations, with a shutter rated for 400,000.

So how did it do?

The D4 would shoot at ISO 6400 with very little visible noise, and 12,800 with significant noise that was still acceptable to me. The D5 shoots beautifully at up to ISO 51,200. So at this point 51,200 is better than 12,800, which is very impressive to me. I made a test shot at 102,400 which looked roughly equivalent to ISO 25,600 on the D4 and therefore not really acceptable. However, I have not taken any real world pictures at that speed, so I will update this review with more information as I obtain it. Note that at ISO 102,400 it may be difficult to see the image in the viewfinder, because you are actually asking it to significantly brighten reality. You are starting to run into limitations of our own eyes.

This is, alas, all JPG shooting. I have not tried RAW because Apple's software does not yet support RAW conversion for the D5 files. What I hear is that about half the improvement is due to the sensor and half is due to superior JPG conversion in software. So the D5 is likely to do well with RAW up to 25,600 and you will have to use JPG processing for 51,200 to be acceptable. What I notice, however, is that while I frequently needed to bump up exposure in post with the D4, I have not had to do this with the D5 at all thanks to its superior high ISO ability. So thanks to the camera's superior performance at 51,200 it may be possible that you will no longer need to push exposure, meaning that it will be less and less important to use RAW in the future.

As Thom Hogan says, they moved our cheese!

The three controls flanking the shutter release button have changed position. I always found it awkward to push the Video Record button in the D4. The D5 has solved this problem; the new positions are much easier to use. However, it's going to take time for me to get used to the new position of the ISO and Mode buttons.

The controls all seem to feel sharper and crisper than the D4. Of course this may be because I have a D4 with an enormous amount of use, but I still think it's significantly nicer than my memory of my then-new D4's controls.

For some reason I find it easier to hold vertically than the old model. I think they changed it a bit for the better.

For an old iPhone user such as myself, the new pinch to zoom mode is wonderful! It's really cool to see the image change size and be easy to move it around. However, it's a bit awkward that when you do pinch to zoom and then take pictures, the zoom level remains the same instead of being reset to the normal magnification, meaning that you cannot use the control buttons to change the image without resetting the zoom. Still, on balance I would never return to the conventional controls of the D4.

XQD Card and Reader

Based on my experience with the D4, get the dual XQD version, as I did. CF cards are about half the speed of the older XQD and when my D4 switched from XQD to CF I groaned about the far inferior performance. This is especially true since the 128GB Lexar XQD card is available at a very reasonable price. New XQD cards are double the speed of the old ones, so don't even dream of getting the CF version.

I bought the D5 from a local camera store, and they were a bit confused about whether I would get the XQD card and reader free. Be insistent with your dealer about this issue. The free XQD card is 32GB, which is a bit small for use with this camera, but it will do while your Amazon order is going through for the bigger card.

The free reader is not compatible with the slower cards, so if you are upgrading from a D4, either keep your old reader or give your old cards to the person buying your D4.

<b>4K Video</b>

The 4K video mode is, unfortunately, a DX crop factor and therefore probably will require the use of DX lenses for most of us. Since I bought the D5 instead of the D500 primarily because I would prefer to use the optically and mechanically superior full frame lenses, this is a bit of a letdown. When I have had a chance to review my 4K footage more carefully, I will update this section with more information.

Regular 1080P video still looks fantastic and you can even film at up to 60fps if the mood strikes.


I seriously considered downgrading to the $2,000 D500 instead of buying another awesome beast of a top-end camera. Embarrassingly enough, the D500 has WiFi and the D5 charges an "economical" $699 for it. The D500 is also much smaller and lighter, and is far more affordable. To get a taste of what the high-end camera is like, the D500 should give you about 75% of what you get with the D5 at less than 1/3 the price.

The D5 is famous for its cockroach-like durability. The shutter is rated for 400,000 exposures instead of the 200,000 for the D500. I've taken over 500,000 shots with my D4 without a miss, and I have every confidence the D5 will do just as well.

It's a beautiful world, we only photograph it

In the end, I really love owning this particular kind of camera. I love the super-high speed operation, the precision of the FX lenses and the overall presence of the design. It's genuinely addictive to own Nikon's most professional camera.

Sample photos

The first photo was taken with the D5 and 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 (old version) during daylight conditions.

The second photo was taken with the D5 and the 24-70 f/2.8 VR (new version) inside a very dark nightclub at ISO 51,200.
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Philippine Culture Manual for Foreigners: Understanding the Culture of the Philippines
Philippine Culture Manual for Foreigners: Understanding the Culture of the Philippines
by Bob Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Introducing Filipino Culture!, October 29, 2015
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This book goes through the basics of Philippine culture, such as the emphasis on the group versus the individual, and the key role of shame and saving of face. I thought the material was well presented but could have used more examples. For instance, he says the key tenets of Philippine culture work together in interesting and possibly deadly ways, but lists few ways in which this happens.

The book has important warnings to potential Philippine entrepreneurs. For instance, you need to understand why things are as they are, before assuming that you have the right ideas and trying to change long-standing practices. When I was on Philippine mailing lists, my conclusion was that it's just about impossible to make a living in this country with the wages and prices on offer. If you have a good business idea and it is successful, Filipinos will copy you and undercut your prices, and because any Western person is high overhead, they can drive you out of business effortlessly. You need to be selling something or providing a service appreciated by those in the West. Bob doesn't mention how he makes his money, only that he is a successful entrepreneur, but obviously he makes money through his Philippine guides and web sites. This shows us that he is indeed smart, but not as knowledgeable as one might hope about Philippine business per se.

I visited the Philippines for three weeks in 2006, which certainly does not make me an expert. I was a little surprised that some real frustrations I felt when I was there were not covered. For instance, stores are often out of even the simplest things like, in my case, Coke Light, their equivalent of Diet Coke. Furthermore, it tasted funny compared to the US version.

Alas, one really important topic was not covered, because he had (and still has) a Filipina wife he met while in the USA. It is briefly mentioned that if you want a date, all you need to do is visit a shopping mall and women will approach you. But that is covered as a hazard, since he assumes you are already married, like him. I suspect the most attractive thing for most guys visiting the country is the abundance of women interested in western men(*). Information, perhaps by guest authors, on how the Philippine dating process works, and how you can best take advantage of the feminine abundance that is available, would be enormously helpful for many men.

I enjoyed reading this, but it was perhaps too obviously a bunch of blog posts combined into a book. The author was always trying to provoke his audience, with phrases like "What do you think of this?" That looks really strange, almost like a cop-out, in a book format where you can't read or write blog comments! In the future, I would hope that when he creates another edition of the book, he takes some of that stuff out and adds some of the best comments and his reaction to them.

(*) Or, generally, Filipino men interested in Western women, an increasingly common situation. Or men interested in Westen men, women interested in Western women, etc, etc. Let's just say that romance is generally in the air, and although these people initially want you because of your money, if you are a good person, they typically form loving relationships with you where the money is just one factor of their appreciation of you.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 22, 2015 10:28 AM PST

The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems (Center for Environmental Structure)
The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth: A Struggle Between Two World-Systems (Center for Environmental Structure)
by Christopher Alexander
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $41.50
38 used & new from $13.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Winning the battle ... but maybe losing the war ..., October 1, 2014
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Christopher Alexander's theory that our system of building creates lifeless, cheerless mediocrity seems proven simply by looking around at our buildings as they exist.

At the same time, most of his problems seem to come from specific situations he faced in this project, which quite honestly seem pretty unique to it. For example, he wanted to start onsite design work before the land purchase was nailed down, by putting flags on the property. Understandably, landowners didn't much like this, and negotiators for the University felt it was disturbing their efforts to keep the price down. They eventually forged a compromise. Hardly the stuff of blood and guts-level fighting between two world views!

Most of the real fighting was thanks to the unique structure of the project, where he had to deal with a general contractor unsympathetic to the way he preferred to work. The lesson is that if you want to do things his way, have a combined architect/contractor hybrid do the work. In this case, the architect takes the contractor's fee, and can use some of that money to contribute back to the project instead of pay inflated contractor profits. There doesn't seem to be much reason not to do something like this for Alexander-style projects, and that would eliminate nearly all the actual fighting faced by this one.

The problems I was expecting to see, like regulatory agencies wanting very specific plans, and people misunderstanding his approach, seemed nearly nonexistent. Probably great deference was given to a major school who wanted to design its own campus, but similar behavior might exist for any major real estate developer with a good reputation.

It is clear, from the numerous examples of feedback from users, that students, teachers and administrators alike love the project and the approach used to design and build it. System-A, whatever its faults, can work brilliantly and be a fantastic success. It takes a lot of work, but it is surely possible to hire Alexander's firm to create your own masterpiece.

So why hasn't the Alexander-predicted revolution happened? Why hasn't he been able to design more than a handful of buildings since? This is a question he doesn't even ask, and to me, this is the greatest mystery presented by the book - if his approach works so well, why hasn't it spread after he's wrote millions of highly influential and persuasive words on the subject, participated in numerous projects, etc?

He won the battle over the Eshin campus, but appears to be losing the war.


Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
by Charles Montgomery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.48
76 used & new from $3.23

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The greatest secret of urban happiness, revealed inside ..., July 1, 2014
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I like the idea of this book: Determine what urban patterns make people happiest, and promote using those patterns in the future. The book was very well written, filled with great people stories that were very good at making me understand his vision and those of fellow New Urbanists.

The problem with this book is that it stacks the deck improperly. It takes the worst of sprawl and compares it to the best of the anti-sprawl efforts. For example, we get to meet a nice fellow with a two hour commute. Each way. On horribly congested roads. The obvious fact that this makes his life miserable is made painfully clear. But is this necessarily a consequence of sprawl? The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the strictest housing regulations in the nation, which effectively mandate that the city won't have enough room for those who wish to live there. Thus, people wind up living far from the city and having horrid commutes. That's the nature of the popularity of the Bay Area combined with heavy-handed regulation.

His vision is pretty simple. People are alienated with their neighbors in sprawl, because they never walk around and get to know each other. Instead, they drive to other giant places, where they rarely do anything but shop. How much better it would be to meet in community parks and squares and interact?

Oddly enough, by the way, this has not been my experience. I have lived in faceless apartments and condos and sprawl's single family homes. Every time I've lived in single family homes, I've had neighbors who have become friends. Every time I've been in apartments or condos I've felt isolated. Sprawl seems good for social interactions in my experience. Well, as long as it's not accompanied by 2 hour commutes. But again, that's an extreme outlier to say the least.

Something pretty close to his ideal community exists in South Beach near Miami. It should be paradise. People walk and bike to work. Everything is close together, so there are tons of great shops and restaurants. But there is a dark side. The cost of housing is through the roof, in fact I'm not even sure if it's in the same solar system any more. Undistinguished single family homes for US$1 million. Condos for $500,000. Rents for even the most laughably pathetic apartments well over $1,000 a month. Parking is almost impossible to find and as a result the narrow roads are constantly clogged with cars. Congestion is basically 24/7. This is not a happy city. In fact, I'd say its misery index is dismayingly close to the poor Bay Area guy with the two hour commute.

The author makes the point that New Urbanist ideas are effectively outlawed in many cities. He particularly hits regulations governing a minimum amount of parking. Since I'm at heart a Libertarian/Anarchist, I have great sympathy for this approach.

So I tried a different approach, looking up Houston, the city with no zoning and only light land use regulation. How did the New Urbanism fare there? Turns out there are pockets of it, but most developers and housing buyers prefer sprawl. What it looks like to me is that sprawl works just fine if adequate roads are built for it to. Sprawl is sufficiently popular in Houston that private covenants in developments often enforce it to protect property values. At the same time, New Urbanist developments exist with higher density, and their covenants perpetuate those principles. Everyone gets what they want, which seems to me like the greatest secret of happiness.

The author makes use of third world examples, but unfortunately they are just not going to work for people living in the USA. You can ban cars from the city if 4/5 of your residents can't afford cars. You can't do it if 90%+ of people use cars to get around.

The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits
The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits
by Jim Geraghty
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.89
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4.0 out of 5 stars "Yes Minister" for Americans, June 21, 2014
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The book's antihero, Adam Humphrey, is clearly based on uberbureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby from the long-running British TV series Yes Minister. The two works share a very entertaining flaw: The antihero is so intelligent, so brilliant in how he runs circles around his detractors, that it's frequently difficult not to admire him and root for his inevitable victory in securing more money for the agency, no matter how ill-advised such a request actually is.

Honestly, the nominally good guys, the people we should be rooting for in their efforts to eliminate government waste and mismanagement, are not nearly as vivid or entertaining.

I enjoyed the book and gobbled it up in a day or so. I deduct a star for being so obviously a derivative work, but at least the author is considerate enough to admit the connection on page 255, in a way sufficiently subtle that only Yes Minister fans will notice it. On the other hand, this work is going to be more comprehensible to American readers, since it shows how Sir Humphrey's techniques, designed for the British system of government, are alive and well in the USA.

If this review has made you want to visit the original, here you go:

The Corsican Caper: A novel
The Corsican Caper: A novel
by Peter Mayle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.95
86 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rebol Redoux, May 31, 2014
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Peter Mayle loves his characters, and it shows. He loves them enough that he never really puts them in all that much peril. And he loves them so much that there seems little room for much in the way of new characters to add fresh blood to the series. I love them too, but more fresh blood would have made this book more entertaining.

In the first book, the charming and wealthy Rebol was the antagonist. In the second book, he joins the good guys. This created some entertaining tension that drove reader interest. In this book, he's a known character, and therefore sadly less interesting. Most of the good characters from previous books return, and so we don't have the entertaining descriptions of them that, again, drove a lot of interest in the previous works.

Mayle's books are really character, humor and food-driven, so the plot has always been secondary, but the plot of this book is suspiciously similar to his last one. Once again, a piece of gaudy real estate, Rebol's gorgeous home, is the bone of contention. And once again we have a villain, with a megayacht, who would stop at nothing to get it. The first two books were distinctive and original; this is basically a well-written replay of the second book.

On the other hand, his books always put a big smile on my face, because he portrays his love for his characters and their impeccable taste all too well. So I'm glad I bought it, even though it took me just a few hours to read and didn't introduce me to much new in the world.

America's Great Loop & Beyond: Cruising on a Frugal Budget (Bring your own Boat)
America's Great Loop & Beyond: Cruising on a Frugal Budget (Bring your own Boat)
by Capt John C Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.95
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cruising for the Rest of Us, May 15, 2014
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When you think of cruising, you probably think of dropping anchor in some deserted cove, with beautiful beaches, tropical sunshine and the magnificence of nature all around. You probably also think of the dangers: giant storms, hidden rocks, and the huge amount of technical knowledge you need to operate a boat responsibly.

But there is a different form of cruising, which attracts an entirely different sort. This type trades manmade tourist attractions for the beaches, canals and locks for the ocean, and nearly complete safety for the hazards of the open sea. Because the hazards are simplified, and because you can spend nights on land any time you get sick of your boat, you can go with a much smaller and simpler boat, you can spend enormously less money, and the complexity level shrinks down to more human levels.

There are a lot of interesting ramifications of this. First, the typical cruiser buys, or at least dreams of, a 40' plus boat. It's more stable in high seas, has nearly land-quality accomodations, and of course you can put systems on board that offer you a lot more comfort. A large percentage of this book is devoted to trying to talk you into downsizing towards a boat smaller than 36' or so. High seas, after all, are extremely rare on a great loop cruise, because you are almost exclusively in protected waters. Fuel costs become a lot more expensive on big boats, as do marina fees and the like. With the land always easily accessible, the occasional hotel stay is far from out of the question, making luxurious accommodations much less important than they would be on the high seas.

He also tries to talk us into is a single diesel, instead of twins, because they are enormously more economical. And again, redundancy in power simply doesn't make much sense when help is invariably a VHF call away.

Finally, don't buy a fast boat for the Loop. Not only are fast boats mind-bendingly expensive to operate, they are also mostly scorned in an environment where you have to pay attention to the potential damage done by your wake. A very high percentage of the loop is idle speed only, and even the higher speed parts are likely to reward speeds of 10 knots or so thanks to bridge and lock opening schedules that keep everyone going at roughly the same net pace.

The author is a fresh voice who is genuinely enthusiastic about his subject and passionate about his form of cruising. To me, he has been successful in giving me a feel for the Great Loop experience and how I might want to mold it to fit my own needs.

I've noticed the bad reviews for this book. They say it's typo-ridden, is endlessly repetitious in parts, and overall doesn't look like it was designed to professional publication standards. I actually found a lot fewer errors than I'd expected in view of these reviews. I think the repetition is part of the author's style, and is simply what he does when he wants to really, really, really emphasize some of his points. Perhaps the worst thing about this book for me was that the illustrations were clearly repurposed from the author's web site and as a result were grainy, fuzzy and hard to decipher.

Honestly, I think much of the reason for the bad reviews is the bare bones, unsentimentally cheap approach to cruising that may offend a few people. For example, one suggestion he has is to buy a sailboat and take down the mast (so the boat can clear the fixed bridges on the route), because sailboats are the most efficient powerboats available. He mentions approvingly the couple who inherited a 50' sailboat, cut the mast down to 7' or so, and went cruising using it as a powerboat. It was cheap and serves them well, but I can imagine any sailing enthusiast would be horrified.

The Great Loop is definitely different. This book makes it feel like cruising for those who don't want to face the big, bad world out there. Instead of traveling to exotic foreign lands with strange cultures and odd rules, you stick to the good ol' USA, close to friendly, familiar seafood restaurants and Walmarts. Instead of taking the effort to master the complexities of your boat before leaving, learn as you go in friendlier waters with a more favorable margin of error. I guess you could say it's cruising with training wheels ... but it's definitely getting you out there.

Which is far more than most people ever do.

Tales of the Intracoastal Waterway: An Account of a Passage from the Florida Keys to Cape Cod on a Seventeen Foot Catboat
Tales of the Intracoastal Waterway: An Account of a Passage from the Florida Keys to Cape Cod on a Seventeen Foot Catboat
by Roland Sawyer Barth
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.00
38 used & new from $11.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's it like to cruise the ICW on a tiny boat?, May 5, 2014
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Nearing his 70th birthday, with the feeling his best years might have been behind him, the author decides to cruise his 17' catboat up the ICW to its place of birth, Boston, Massachusetts. This book is basically a bunch of emails he wrote to his friends along the route to keep them up to date on his progress.

I really enjoyed this account of his journey, his crew and conditions along the route. It was lucid and fun to read, with enough of a combination of cruising account and local color to retain my interest. It was also quite short and I finished it about two hours after Amazon plunked it in my mailbox.

The trip started fun and enjoyable, getting more serious and much less fun as he continues north. I had suspected from the beginning that his start date of mid-April was a bit early to begin, considering that he would still be in pretty scaly weather as he neared Boston. The book's story basically confirmed my hunch.

Roughly the first half of this book shows him having a blast. He had congenial company in his wife and crew members, he had mostly pleasant surroundings, and all in all everything was great. This first half is likely to encourage us all in our own armchair trips up the ICW. I bought the book because I'm about to purchase a Grand Banks 42 and am considering taking it up to Georgia. There is sadly little on the trip from Florida to Georgia, but it's pretty clear that it's a fun journey well worth taking.

But as we get closer to the frozen north, the air gets chillier and the company becomes rarer (although no less congenial when present). The wind starts to blow, hard, and he minimizes his stops. Navigation aids are scarce, and he runs aground more. He writes less, and almost much exclusively about the sea conditions. Instead of taking time to pause and smell the roses, he seems determined to simply make it to Boston. I would think he would have been better off taking a break and waiting for better weather, but his iron constitution saw him through.

Especially towards the end, he's averaging 50 miles a day and taking between 9 and 13 hours a day to get there. (Remember, his typical speed is about 5 knots, and that is under moderately favorable conditions). So he is really being a hard charger in a trip that I would normally associate with a more leisurely pace. John C Wright, who has written his own book about intracoastal cruising, suggests in his web site that the trip up the Intracoastal from Florida to New York typically takes three months in a trawler (which is faster than the Catboat used here); Roland Barth took just a shade under two months to get all the way to Boston.

Some interesting figures from his book: He motored about 1/3 of the time, motor-sailed about 1/3 of the time and sailed about 1/3 of the time. Interestingly enough, he sailed more as he got further north.

One huge advantage of his small boat was low cost. He estimates that he spent about $1,000 on the trip, which wouldn't pay the fuel bill on a power trawler. And yet the trip clearly would have been a lot more enjoyable on a big boat that wasn't so sensitive to wind and waves.

As he said at the end, this is something he's glad he did but would not want to repeat. I'm glad to have been on the journey with him, in an armchair sailor's sense. This book definitely contains useful information that I feel was worth the time in contemplating my own trip. I may duplicate the southern part in my own boat someday ... but I think I will avoid the frozen north like the plague.

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