VHF Radios with DSC …. Connections make all the difference

Recently, I upgraded my VHF Radio Operators Certificate to include the endorsement for DSC (Digital Selective Calling)

Digital Selective Calling and DSC VHF radios have been around for a while now but there seems to be some information out there that is vague,  incomplete or in general is misunderstood by the average boater.

While taking the course I found  more than a few things and details that I didn’t know about DSC.

This might be obvious, “old news” and straight forward to some of you, but in an attempt to share the information I thought it was worth blogging about.


First, here’s a short video on DSC and how it actually works.


You can tell if you have an up to date DSC radio by the little door that flips up or opens and it has a “distress” button under it.


Thousands of these new DSC equipped radios are sold and installed every year to new boaters and to those wanting to upgrade or replace existing VHF’s

Now here’s where it gets interesting………………..or at least where you need to take it 2 steps further…

It’s Important to understand that just connecting the power, ground and antenna for your new DSC radio does not mean that the “Distress” function (under the red door) will dispatch the Coast Guard to help you.

There’s more to it than that! You need to take a few more steps to make it all work for you.

Before that  shiny new DSC Radio will work you must obtain and enter a  Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number in  for it to properly function and activate the DSC side of the radio.

Unless you have entered your MMSI number, the radio will very likely not actually send a digital message at all!……… In fact if your new VHF does not have a built in GPS function or has not been connected to your chartplotter, you will need to manually enter your GPS co-ordinates into your radio BEFORE it will successfully send a digital distress call.
That would take quite a while to enter all those numbers. Time you might not want to waste in the event of a DISTRESS.

So…… in addition to the MMSI number it is well worth it to connect your new VHF to your chartplotter.
Usually this connection is via the 0183 or NMEA 2000 network.


In the picture above notice the left bottom corner of the screen shows the “lat and long” and time. This information is taken from your chartplotter and seeing it on your radio screen, you know it’s connected .
Its an easy connection just 2 wires in most cases!

Below is a typical RADIO to VHF connection but you should consult your manual for full details.


These are 2 important steps (along with wiring the 12V DC  power and proper install of the antenna) to make sure your radio functions like you want it to in the event of an emergency and to be able to take advantage of the full DSC capabilities. Some newer radios will alert you (when you first power it up) that you need to input the MMSI number so that the Distress function will work but on some models this message is easily skipped and will not show up again.

A note on older radios….

Some older radios have a red “EMERGENCY” button (without the flip up door) but they may not be able to take full advantage of today’s DSC features including the primary reason you may want it….DISTRESS.
These older radios may lack the ability of sending the GPS co ordinates and your MMSI information, dramatically slowing down response time.

The new radios actually have 2 receivers. One that you select the channel or frequency and the other monitors the digital channel 70 ALL THE TIME.

Many new radios even incorporate their own GPS and AIS systems as well as  DSC. These will still need the MMSI number programmed into them but have additional features that make them even better.

Here is an example of a screen on a newer Standard Horizon model:



Below are 2 links to register and get your MMSI number :




It should be relatively painless to apply for your MMSI (It’s free in Canada) It looks like it’s a bit more complicated in the US if you will boating North of the 49th


Another important thing to remember is that IF YOU HAVE PURCHASED A Previously Owned BOAT that already had a DSC radio installed, you WILL want to double and triple check that it is wired in properly but more importantly, it will need to be reprogrammed for YOUR MMSI number.
If the radio still has the old owners MMSI programmed that’s not a good thing! You may be able to amend an MMSI number that belongs to you but you should check with who issued the number to make sure.

In some cases you may need to remove the radio and take it into a dealer to be reprogrammed or it may be easier to purchase an updated radio and start from scratch.

The same is true if you SOLD a boat and did not delete and cancel the MMSI number that was in the radio. You would want to make sure this was done as well.


Additional  information on DSC


Here’s a few short videos explaining a bit more about DSC.:

How DSC Works

Icom Video

The DSC system is fully operational in BC and WA State and all new VHF radios sold now should have the ability to utilize DSC. Essentially this DIGITAL communications system can not only aide in a distress situation but will also act as another way to “hail” another vessel or a group of vessels and have many other additional features like position polling and group calling, all done digitally on Channel 70.
While the “DISTRESS” function of DSC seems to be the most important, the “Individual Call” feature is designed to free up the “calling chatter” on channel 16 ….in the future we all may need to use this feature
Here’s a video of how that works

Individual DSC Call

Most people want the new radio for the security of that RED DISTRESS BUTTON. I have one of these newer radios. When I fist installed it I programmed my MMSI number into it and hooked it up to my chartplotter  but I will freely admit that until recently, I did not know exactly how to make Digital Distress Call or how to use some of the other features of the radio !

Short of taking the complete radio course,( which I do recommend), here’s a video from the UK that explains how to make a DSC Mayday / Distress call. It seems to be the same protical  here in North America

Making a DSC Mayday Distress Call


Here is a current Coverage Map showing the DSC system up the BC Coast

DCS Coverage Map

Click on the picture to increase the size.


One last bit of useful information…. most of these new radios are reported to be power sensitive and apparently need good clean 12V power to function properly. The radio will appear to be working but both VHF and DSC transmission can be prevented by low power from a poor connection, low battery or simply power from another device drawing the load down. Worth checking how your radio’s 12V DC is wired.
If possible  wire it directly to a properly fused power point and not just “scotch locked” onto a random ignition or hot wire somewhere under the dash.


Your radio’s manual will have complete installation and complete operating instructions regarding both VHF and DSC features.


Hope this information was useful to somebody.

See you on the water!

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Early Winter Project…….New Flooring

First Winter Project this year is new flooring.

For a couple of reasons we wanted to replace the flooring in the galley, head and stateroom in Tolly Roger.

When we got the boat the “head” had been tiled with a 2×2 white tile but the job was not properly done and some tiles were badly cracked. It was difficult to get the floor really clean and the Vacuflush Toilet was not properly seated and sealed,


Head with OLD Tiled Floor

The Galley and Stateroom were engineered wood flooring that was in great shape until I damaged it (beyond repair)  installing the new fridge earlier this year. The new fridge was slightly taller and it was a tight fit. The bottom had some very sharp edges and while sliding it in place the sharp corner scratched through the flooring. Big Mistake!

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Old Flooring in Galley

So…. the hunt was on to find flooring .

Some time ago we found a product by LONSEAL Marine. They sent us a few samples and we really liked it.

Lonseal is a very heavy duty vinyl flooring product that comes in a few styles.

We chose the mahogany and teak as it matched the colour of the Tolly Interior best.


Lonseal 73SE

I was a bit surprised to find that there is no local dealer for the product and the best place I found to buy the flooring (and the special glue) was on-line at  DEFENDER

Prep work was relatively minimal although I did add a new subfloor in the head and under the fridge to make it level with the other floor.

Now the challenge was to find someone to install it!        It’s a very small area with way too many angles for me.

It’s a challenge to get a lot of thing done in Point Roberts so it was no surprise that there was nobody at “The Point” that installed vinyl…. carpet yes but not vinyl.

After a few calls and an internet search  I found an installer in Bellingham that would come up and install it.  You buy it we install it flooring….. perfect! just what we need!

Glenn is a great guy and did an amazing job of the installation and really “went the extra mile” to make sure there were no seams and every corner fit perfectly! I highly recommend Glenn if you need any kind of flooring done.

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Here is Glenn cutting out the Lonseal using his paper templates that he painstakingly crafted. Note that he brought a roll end of carpet underlay to roll out on the dock to keep the new flooring clean and dry. Smart trick I thought…

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Above is the flooring just after gluing and rolling.

Below is the “head” with the new floor

Head New Floor

Head with New Floor

Next was to re-install the  doors and trim pieces and finally the fridge.
This time I have covered the bottom of the fridge with felt pads and was EXTRA careful sliding it back in.

Galley Floor

Galley Floor

We really like the look of the new flooring and I am glad this project is wrapped up !

Posted in Boat Projects, Tollycraft 34 Projects | 2 Comments


With the Fall weather in full swing now this will likely be the last cruising entry for the year. Seems like the season went by too quickly but we had a good cruising year and already have some ideas for next year.

We attended the 2013 Canadian Tollycruisers Rendezvous September 12-15, 2013. The weather was SPECTACULAR !



Telegraph Harbour Marina does a great job every year for the rendezvous.

This year’s theme was “Pyjama Party”
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Peggy and Maria organized the first annual Golf Classic.


The final challenge was to land a tee shot into a floating dinghy. Lots of fun and I think it was a big hit with everyone!


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For those of you who are interested in the Tollys that were there, here is a slide show of a few…..

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Saturday Night’s dinner was a great time. As usual Terry arranged that every boat won a prize!

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As a true sign that FALL had arrived, we awoke Sunday Morning to dense FOG!

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As it turned out the weather lifted enough by mid morning for us to head out.

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As we came out of Active Pass it looked like crossing the “Straight” looked like it might be interesting.
A fairly large storm cloud loomed over but it actually proved to be less in size that we thought and although I was
glad we had the new  RADAR, we actually were fine.

Another GREAT Canadian Tollycruiser Rendezvous.
If you’ve never attended one, you should. They are a lot of fun, very informal and a wonderful bunch of people from all walks of life that come together to share a common interest in boating and Tollycraft Boats !


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Summer Cruzin’

This year our first stop was Prevost Harbor and  Stuart Island State Park
Prevost would be the meeting spot for Breakaway, Abraxis, Adagio and Untide!


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We walked, hiked, kayaked,played lots of games, relaxed, walked again and dinghy rafted for many “happy hours”

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Celebrating ADAGIO and her crew

Celebrating ADAGIO and her crew

One highlight was the official renaming ceremony of Adagio, Monica and Marcelo’s new to them Beneteau 343.

We were treated to an AMAZING Portuguese Crab Feast !  Thanks to Maria

ed. note : I am not sure where all those ducks came from or their significance to the ceremony. ( Must be an “N” dock thing)

Here’s a little slide show of the  ceremony that Marcelo skillfully mastered.

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After a few days we left Prevost for Bedwell and Poets Cove with a slight diversion to see Turn Point from the water

Tolly Roger at the  Turn Point Light Station

Tolly Roger at the
Turn Point Light Station


Adagio with sails up

Poets Cove Marina

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We took the Dinghy’s under the bridge to Port Browning for some needed supplies.

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Then it was time to head to our next destination but first we took the “Big Boats” under the bridge.

This was the first of a few “bucket list” things I wanted to do.
Thanks to the crew on Breakaway and UnTide for their help guiding the way!


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Tolly Roger and UnTide

We slowly cruised around the East Side of North Pender and arrived in Otter Bay. Adagio and Abraxis cruised up the West Side.

Here’s a short video of Breakaway and UnTide cruising up Navy Channel

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Otter Bay Marina


Otter Bay Marina

We spent 2 night s at Otter Bay. There was Golfing, More dinghy rides, dog walking and more great weather.

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Next Up was TOD INLET

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Thanks to Phil we were able to Anchor, stern Tie and Raft as a group

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The water was so warm, everyone swam even the dogs!

Rafted in Tod Inlet

Rafted in Tod Inlet


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Tod Inlet is on the back side of Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay BC.

The land was a cement plant and is now a Provincial Park

Although it was very busy, I was impressed with Tod Inlet. Great trails to walk and very peaceful.

Flying Roger

Flying Roger

Here’s a short video of Roger swimming

We left Abraxis and Freeboard who headed for home and headed North

A very nice, slow cruise through Samsom Narrows and ending at Telegraph Harbour

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We spent 2 nights there and headed to Wallace Island, where we re-joined Adagio

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For more information on the History of Wallace Island Click HERE

Chillin on the bow

Chillin on the bow

Shallow Stern Tie

Shallow Stern Tie

Anchored and Stern Tied!

Anchored and Stern Tied!

Here is a link to the book “Once Upon an Island”

We had a great time at Wallace and definitely will return. It is so peaceful and feels like you are a million miles away. It was another “bucket list” thing for me and it lived up to all that I had heard about it.


From Wallace we made a quick stop at Montague and a trip to the Hummingbird Pub was in order.

As the weather was changing decided to head home a day early.

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It was a great 14 days on the water with great friends! Lots of really good memories !!

Roger That………………..Rover and Out

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When all PLATHS lead to a new Windlass

Recently we were gathered with friends planning our mid Summer Cruise. It became quite clear that this cruise would involve anchoring at a few more places than I had thought.

I happened to casually mention that our boat, (while having in the last year received a new anchor and  extra 50 feet of chain), did NOT have a WINDLASS. It never has had one.
“Oh My” was one reaction “hope your feeling strong” they said….. “your gonna wish you had one” they continued.
“We had a windlass on our 26 “, I said “and we never used it”…. AH came the reply …..“but you have at least 3 times the weight of gear now”…………. hmmmm good point!

Well, as you might suspect that got me thinking (maybe worrying) and after a few days I opened the file folder marked “Windlass” and started going through the stuff I had been collecting.

I went back and forth, choosing from styles, sizes, prices, brands, models and trying to get some recommendations that made sense.
One consideration was trying to keep a new windlass from looking too “new”. I wanted it to look like it had been there for 30 years. Perhaps a bit like restoring an old car, I wanted something close to what would have been an original Tolly option.

I kept coming back to the PLATH WINDLASS and really liked that look.

As near as I can tell, many Tolly’s had these as factory equipped options.

I spoke with a few people who had great things to say about the windlass and more important about the Plath Company and their customer service.

I talked Ron at Plath and after 5 minutes on the phone I had secured a totally rebuilt 9A Windlass….. 2 days later, as promised it arrived!

The Plath Crate

The Plath Crate

Plath Windlass

Plath Windlass

Now to start the installation.

There are some boat projects that start out a little un-nerving and projects that involve drilling holes are just that.

As they say the first one is the hardest….from there it gets easier. This project took about 20 holes in the deck!

I located the windlass on the deck so that the wildcat and chain was lined up with the bow roller, then positioned it on the deck so the mounting hardware and power/ground wires would be all inside the chain locker.

With all that measured out came the drill and even the jig saw !

Drilling Holes and Sawin' Holes in the deck

Drilling and Sawin’ Holes in the deck


Holes drill and sealed.

Note that the deck is over 1-1/2″ thick with solid reinforcing under the area that the windlass is mounted.

Glassing in the exposed core of the deck

Glassing in the exposed core of the deck


Dry Fit


Lots of Tools

I sealed the windlass base down  with 4200 and bolted it down with new stainless button head cap screws, over sized fender washers and locknuts .


Edges masked to keep the 4200 away from the deck


Once the electrical was wired and hooked up the final step was to install the motor cover.


Motor cover sealed and screwed down


Installation complete !


Ready to Anchor !


Finished installation with centre deck cleat moved back

Now we are ready to go and anchor !
Another project complete.

Now…Let’s go cruising……………………………………………………….

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July Cruise – Interrupted – Finding the true meaning of LUCKY

We started out for a 12 Day Cruise at Reid Harbor, Stuart Island for a night and then traveled to the Annual Tollycraft Rendezvous in Roche Harbor. It was a great cruise over the “straight” with calm seas. We found space at the dock on Reid and spent the night there.

Click on any of these pictures to view a larger image………………

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The theme for this years Rendezvous was “Cruise Ship Hawaii”  and we teamed up with  Phil and Maria; Ralph and Renee; and Ross and Miriam……….so much fun

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A great time was had by all. It was nice to see our Tollycraft friends and catch up on all their news. The “Happy Hour” pants came out in full force and we dressed for dinner in our “Life Jacket Drill” attire….

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Roger was invited to swim in “Roche Lake” and took full advantage of the long walks and exercise.  He also participated in his fist “Pet Parade”


Roger even met some new friends…… here he is with a 12 week old brown PWD named “Salty”


We had planned on being out 12 days and following a group back to Stuart for a few days then onto Friday Harbor but we had to cut our trip short and head home to deal with a very sick cat. So, on Sunday we headed back home

We were sorry that we missed the “after party” and the 4th of July fireworks but….. family comes first !

We are very lucky to have Family.

After a few days at the vet, luckily the cat survived is recuperating.

Luckily the weather held and we were able to head out again on Thursday. Being the July 4th Long Weekend we, (or at least I) thought it would be busy everywhere.
We decided to take our chances and head to Sucia for the weekend.

Our luck continued as there were several mooring buoys to choose from.

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We spent the day relaxing, walking the trails and Roger showed us that his swimming lessons from Tolly have really paid off!


The weather was luckily “spectacular” with sunny skies and hot days.


Now here’s where our LUCK takes off.

On Friday, our friends from…. “Untied” – “Twice is Nice” – “Adagio” – “1K4415” (aka Breakaway…. they just can’t commit ) and new friends from “MV Nola-Dene” made their way  to Fossil Bay for the weekend.

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We’ve met some really good friends since we started boating and LUCKILY we were able to spend some time with them on this trip.
“I just want to say”…… how nice it was for them to meet us at Sucia and spend the weekend and the balance of their cruise with us.

Roger was in heaven with his friend Tolly and new friends Maddie and Nemo


Here’s a little photo album slideshow of our weekend.

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We are lucky to have such great friends. We are lucky to live where we live and lucky that we are able to enjoy these times………

Lucky,….that’s what we are……..and that’s what this cruise was……………………

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Sucia Island May Long Weekend

I guess we have another tradition to follow……. Sucia Island, more specifically, Fossil Bay for the May Long Weekend.

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This is our second year going to Sucia for the May long weekend. It is such a great place and makes a perfect destination for the first trip of the year and makes for a good “shakedown” cruise. It can be a busy spot at times but Sucia offers good moorage, great hiking, great beaches and it’s close by (16NM) !

Sucia Bound

Sucia Bound

Sucia Island

Sucia Island

Fossil Bay

Fossil Bay

Sucia Aerial View

Sucia Island from the air

Roger That McMaster

This was not only our first official trip of 2013 but it was also Roger’s first cruise and he did really well!
Oh…. he did fall in off the dock (thank you Auntie Maria for saving him) but he eventually mastered the “swim step hop” after a while.



 This year we met MV Breakaway at the dock and soon after JaCarol arrived followed by Enough Time and then Jolly Mon .

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Fossil Bay Dock

So now we had a 34,  –  two 37’s  – ,  a 30 Sport  – and a 28 Royal Express……..
I think 5  Tolly’s qualifies as an official  Mini Rendezvous and an International one to boot !
Maybe next year we’ll have to expand and send out some  invitations!

A Toast to Boating 2013 !

A Toast to Good Friends and Safe Boating 2013 !

Before you think  I left them out, The new (to them) SV Adagio arrived Saturday Morning on her maiden cruise and carried an extended crew. Having sold their 26 Tollycraft last fall (we loved our 26) and purchased a beautiful, fully equipped Beneteau 343 they are now “raggers” but still a part of our flotilla.
(I have special Tollycraft overlay decals on order so next year we can hide the Beneteau nameplates)

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Roger and Tolly ran the trails to Shallow Bay (and even to Ewing cove) at least twice a day. Roger finally swam and played for hours on the beach.  Tolly looks after Roger almost like they were Brothers. By the end of each day they were exhausted!

Roger and Tolly

Roger and Tolly

Pooped out Puppy!

Pooped out Puppy!

Best Friends!

Best Friends!… “Hey don’t bite my ear”

We had a great visit with our Anacortes Tolly friends……

The Gang

The Gang

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Sunset at Fox Cove

Sunset at Fox Cove



It was a great weekend with great friends and we all look forward to the next get together!

MV Tolly Roger leaving the dock!

MV Tolly Roger leaving the dock!

Thanks Steve and Cara for the pictures. I will remember my camera next time!

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Radar Mast Project

I have always really liked the look of  Tolly’s with a Radar Mast.
The radar on Tolly Roger needed upgrading and I wanted to add a mast at the same time.
After sourcing only 2 companies that would still make one, the cost was just too high so the project went on the “back burner”.
Then, last July I found a used aluminum mast on Craigslist. Originally on a 36 Uniflite, the owner removed it as he had never installed a radar dome and did not want to tilt the mast as he docks in a covered slip.

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The used mast as purchased

The price was right even if it needed some modification and new powder coating.

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Shortened Base by 7″


Upper mast cut down by 22″

The height to the radar plate was too high, so the base was cut down and re-welded.
The top of the mast was trimmed as well. I also trimmed the radar shelf to better fit the new Garmin system.
Then I sent the mast to the sandblaster, back to the welder to weld on a top plate and GPS antenna bases on the spreaders.
Last stop was at the powder coater.

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I pre-wired the mast in the shop for the GPS and AIS antennae, Radar Dome, new LED Anchor and the 2 Spreader lights.

The entire mast with the radar dome, lights and 2 antennae weighs 55lbs.

The mast ready to be raised

The mast ready to be raised

Here is the mast lying in the cockpit ready to be lifted and bolted to the base.


Base mounted

The base was pre mounted on the back of the flybridge deck. This was through bolted with a 3/8″ plate of aluminum under the 2″ coring. The goal here was NOT to drill through into the salon and have to disrupt the headliner. I also wanted to hide the wiring between the back deck and “porch” ceiling making it as clean as possible.

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This required the ceiling of the overhang “porch” to be dropped. There is just enough room in between to hide the wiring, the backing plate and locknuts!

Next step was to guide the wiring through the base and install the upper mast.


The Mast in place


I added 1″ Stainless braces to protect from any side to side movement when underway.


Radar Mast Installed

Just need to finish the wiring and it will be ready to go !

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Here’s the top of the mast taken wile underway;


Posted in Boat Projects, Tollycraft 34 Projects | 1 Comment

Canadian Tollycraft Rendezvous

We attended the 2012 Tollycraft Rendezvous at Telegraph Harbour Marina  Sept 12th – 16th

Great to see our “Tolly” friends and meet new Tollycraft owners.

There were about 60 Tollycraft boats from 23′ to 61′.
This event is always fun and the weather this year was perfect.

There was even some clowning around this year as the theme was Tolly Circus !

We travelled back home to “The Point”  with Tolly friends Breakaway and Untide

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For more information about the Canadian Tollycraft Boating Club visit Canadian Tollycruisers web site

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Annual Summer Cruise with MV Bunbury

Summer Cruise ………….July 26 – Aug 6, 2012

The Route

The cruise plan was set a few months ago. We figured it would be better to plan it and make some marina reservations before setting off.

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So, we decided on a circle route: Point Roberts to Prevost Hbr, Stuart Island – to Deer Harbor – to Jones Island – to Sidney marina – to Ganges Marina – to Montague (Galiano) and home. 11 days – 95 NM and we wont mention how much fuel.

Much fun was had by all. We lucked out with the weather and moorage and saw some new places…..

Jones Island

Jones Island (my new favorite spot)  Luckily, we got the last 2 mooring buoys and an hour later the bay filled up !

Spot the Tolly’s ?

Linear Tie at Prevost, Stuart Island

Deer Harbor at low tide!

If you are interested in marine AIS (Automatic Identification System) the “screen print” below was taken from my Brother’s computer.

You can track AIS equipped boats here: AIS

Posted in Cruising with Tolly Roger | 1 Comment