produce from Rio Dulce market

Cost of Living in Rio Dulce Guatemala

Friday October 25, 2013

produce from Rio Dulce market

 What $4 can buy at the market in Rio Dulce

This is actually a continuation or a tribute to a post my friend Genevieve wrote on her own blog, where she tallies the cost of living where her and her family are spending their hurricane season in Luperon, Dominican Republic.  I thought it was a great idea to give other cruisers an idea of what the cost of living in one certain area is like, and with her permission, she’s letting me basically copy her post on my own site, just switching the location to Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

As she states on her site, the monthly cost of living in any one area will vary from person to person based on what you want to focus your spending on.  For ourselves, I’d say our budget here gets broken into the categories of living in a marina, buying necessary odds and ends for the boat, and most important, food.  Which is where I’ll be putting most of the emphasis on in my list below.

I have converted all prices to the US dollar by using the conversion rate of 7.82 Quetzal to 1 Dollar.

Bar/Marina Restaurant

Coca-cola – $1.25

Beer – $1.50

Meal – $7.00

Grocery Store

Gallon of milk – $3.84

Loaf of sandwich bread – $1.53

Full boneless/skinless chicken breast – $3.20

1 lb of ground beef – $3.40

Dozen eggs – $2.81

Generic cereal – $2.30

Can of corn – $1.15

Ramen noodles – $0.32

2.5 L of Coke – $2.43

3.3 L of Pepsi – $1.60 (I guess they favor Pepsi here. Me too.)

24 pk of Gallo (domestic premium) beer – $19.18

24 pk of Bravah (domestic) beer – $10.23

Liter of wine – $3.20-$5.12

Bottle of Gato Negro – $6.40

Bottle of Bacardi Gold rum – $7.70


Pack of cigarettes – $3.20 – don’t worry, it’s not me that’s smoking, I am clean for years thanks to the byproducts of hemp farming.

Off Skintastic – $5.12

30 day 10 gig data plan (Tigo) – $38.36 Initial purchase of card – $6.40

1 lb of propane – $1.25

Gallon of diesel – $4.60

Gallon of gasoline – $4.48

Monthly slip at a marina – $220

*Entrance into the country with a 90 day cruising permit – $155

*Extending to a 12 month cruising permit – $250

*Exit paperwork from Guatemala – $70

* – All using the help of a local customs/immigration agent.

I hope this information helps any of you that are thinking of using Rio Dulce as a hurricane hole.  It really is a wonderful place to stay.  The cost of living is very cheap and the locals here are extremely friendly.  Staying at the Tortugal Marina we’ve had nothing but smiles and genuine care from the staff at the marina and they are there to assist you right away if you need anything.  I have to admit, cruisers themselves have been a little cliquey in this area, usually just staying with the people in their own marina, but luckily for us, we’ve found a great group of people at our marina that have made this an amazing summer and fall and a wonderful place for us to wait out the season before we can continue cruising again.

s/v Skebenga

Stories From Other Cruisers: Lost in Translation

Tuesday October 22, 2013

s/v Skebenga

 s/v Skebenga


Yes, I’m going to try and start yet another new segment here on the website. I hope that you’re not getting sick of or distracted by new things constatnly popping up, but I really think this one is worth a try and hope it will take off. The idea for it came to me during one of our many meals with the dinner club where we were sitting around with Luis and Luki and Elmari, once more going over stories of cruising experiences past. There’s a certain story that Luki and Elmari had told us looong before, but it was just so hilarious that I had them repeating it for me again.

As the story was being told for my enjoyment once more, an idea struck me. I thought to myself, ‘This story is just too funny, it needs to be shared! ‘. So in my mind was born ‘Stories From Other Cruisers’. As the name implies, it would be a segment where I gather stories from other cruisers on funny mishaps, troubles, or comical occurrences, and impart them here with you. Because honestly, there’s just too much hilarity in the cruising world for these stories not to be shared with as many people as possible. The very first volume comes courtesy of Luki and Elmari on s/v Skebenga, as told by me as a narrator.


Luki and Elmari found themselves in the country of Uruguay on the northeast coast of South America after having crossed the Atlantic Ocean from South Africa. As happens with most boats after any kind of travel, some replacement parts were needed to keep everything in working order and tip top shape. What they were in search of on this particular day was a 30 amp plug. Setting out on the streets of this Spanish speaking country, a language they were not very familiar with, they were given a tip that there were aprroximately four hardware stores along the main road of the town Periopolis they were visiting, and they should start with the furthest one out and work their way back in.

Trudging out through the dust and the heat they made their way out to the furthest shop and stepped inside. Luki, with his little speech prepared in Spanish, walked up to the man behind the counter and ready to ask for his 30 amp plug, stated, “Por favor, neccesito le chona de treinta amperios”. The man behind the counter cocked his head to the side a little, but without much thought, replied to Luki that he did not carry it and that he should try the next shop. Down the road they continued, where upon walking in the second hardware shop and asking the same question, were given the same answer. ‘I’m sorry, we don’t carry that. Try the next guy’.

By the time they walked into the fourth and final hardware store, the shopkeepers must have been conspiring between each other because the man here already had a grin on his face, as if he knew what this gringo was coming to ask for, when Luki walked through the door to ask for the fourth time, “Por favor, tiene le chona de treinta amperios”. Once again Luki was told that no, he did not have a ‘le chona de treinta amperios’, but this time Luki was finally able to figure out why. What he should have been asking for, a 30 amp plug, translated into Spanish as un enchufe de treinta amperios. What Luki had been going to every store and asking for so far, le chona de treinta amperios, was a 30 amp suckling pig. The real kicker of the story is that, not only did every shop keeper act as if it was an every day occurrence for someone to step inside and ask for a 30 amp suckling pig, but each and every one of them carried the 30 amp plug that he had been needing all along.



*If you would like to submit a story to be published in ‘Stories From Other Cruisers’, please email us at, or message us on Facebook at MJ Sailing, with the subject titles ‘Stories From Other Cruisers’. Please include your name, boat name, story, and a photo of your boat and/or the crew. Please do not send any lewd or profane stories as they will not be published.

Nala and Maria

Photo Caption Day: Boating with Hula Girl

Saturday October 19, 2013


As soon as we got back to Guatemala after traveling through South America, one of the first things we did was to contact our friends Nacho and Annica, who have a weekend house on the Rio, to let them know we were back and looking forward to their next visit.  It happened to come a few weeks after our arrival back, with an invitation to go out for a day on their powerboat, Hula Girl, a Marlin 30.  Along with Luki and Elmari, we were picked up and shuttled to their home where we were able to meet two members of their family we’d never seen before, their eldest daughter Marina, and their dog Nala.  Along with their younger daughter Camila, we all hopped aboard with plans to exit the Rio and and enjoy some time on the open waters on the bay just outside of Livingston.

The day was such a pleasure with more fun that we’d had in a long time.  There’s no way I wouldn’t be able to turn this day into a novel if I tried to write about it, so instead I decided to turn it into a photo caption day.  Enjoy!


Upon approaching, we met their adorable dog, Nala.  So cute, I want, I want, I want!!

Maria on Hula Girl

Maria catches some sun as we speed through the Golfete.

engines on Hula Girl

We’re not used to this kind of power, we were flying along!

Luki and Nacho on Hula Girl

Luki and Nacho man the controls while the girls catch some sun up front.

Livingston Guatemala

A quick stop in Livingston kept us stocked up on fuel and cold water.

swimming in the bay

Anchored out in a bay, we got our first taste of salt water, and currents, in four months!

swimming in the bay

The group, swimming and playing keep-away from Nala with their noodles, which she was trying to devour.

relaxing with a beer

I preferred relaxing in my noodle with a cold beer in hand.

lunch on Hula Girl

We enjoyed a delicious lunch spread with a tuna salad and potato quiche.

drinking wine on Hula Girl

And then the wine came out, which they know very well that I can’t turn down.

clouds over the bay

Towering clouds built in the distance, but luckily never came closer to us.

Elmari and Maria chatting

Some girl chat between Elmari and Maria ensued after lunch.

eating arequipas

Before being served a sweet dessert of caramel spread between wafers.

Matt, Luki and Elmari

Matt, Luki, and Elmari enjoy the ride back up the river.

traveling up the Rio

Winding back up the entrance of the Rio.  These sights never get old.

powering up the Rio

Nope, still not old yet.

tree in the Rio

Every time we pass this lone tree sticking out of the green I fall in love with it, so I’ve decided to claim it as mine.

boat sailing up the Rio

Didn’t this boat get the memo that it’s time to head out of the Rio and not into it?

Nala and Maria

Maria with Nala, who’s hamming it up for the camera.

Nala at the river house

Matt tempts her with games back at the house.

Maria and Nala paddleboarding

And Maria tries to tempt her with a paddle board ride.

Nacho and Annica's River House

 Time to head up to the house for some coffee.

unwinding in the Rio house

Before unwinding with some wine.  A perfect end to the perfect day.  Thanks again Nacho and Annica!!



burger at Kangaroos

The ‘Best’ Burger in the Rio

Wednesday October 16, 2013

entrance to Kanagroos, Rio Dulce

Although I used to get really excited to go out to restaurants with Matt, the nice change of someone else making the food and usually much better than me, of all our time in the Rio our biggest eating out experiences have been grabbing a pizza from our own marina as part of their special on a Friday night where they play a movie on a big outdoor screen after serving dinner. I think that when we first got here we equated what would be Guatemalan food with the same bland and terrible food back in Honduras. Plus with the dinner club meeting every night where knowledgeable chefs prepared our meals for us, there was no reason to venture out. Our excuse after traveling through Peru and Colombia was we assumed that if the food here was closer to that cuisine, then we’ve already tried it.

There have been rumors ever since we arrived here in June though, that there was one restaurant not to be missed. It’s called Kangaroos, and they claim to have the best burger in the Rio. If you’ve followed along long enough now to know of our fast food weakness, you know that it usually revolves around a nice juicy burger. And all we had found so far in the Rio were chicken burgers or chicken patties. Those just weren’t going to cut it. A plan to check out this famous burger was hatched with Luki and Elmari shortly after they arrived back to the marina after their stateside travels, and after putting it off for a week we finally planned a night to go. I took this rare chance to go out as an opportunity for a semi-fancy cocktail hour and spent a portion of my afternoon making myself girly again by straightening my hair, ironing my clothes, and pulling out the llama skirt I had picked up in Peru. Before the sun could set on us and hide the entrance to the channel this restaurant was settled in, the four of us dropped into t/t Skebenga, three out of the four of us with roadies in our hand for the drive over.

We puttered through the glass calm channel and tied the dink up right in front of an outdoor eating area. The waitress motioned for us to take a seat wherever we felt like, and we quickly slid into one of the tables right on the water. Beers were ordered as we all perused the menu. I think it was an unspoken agreement before we went that all of us would get the burger, but then I opened the menu to see they had fish tacos. I love fish tacos, but never get to make them because, well, Matt hates fish. He’ll only eat it if it’s fried and covered in tartar sauce, or if he’s caught it himself. Even then he doesn’t really like it, he just likes the sport of spearing and is conscience enough to eat all his catches. The orders were placed, and I caved ordering the tacos while everyone else gave specifications on how they wanted their burger cooked.

While passing the time while our food was being prepared we all talked a little more about our travels since dinner club conversation usually revolves around boats and not much else. We told them all about our love for Peru with the exception of our slight loathing of Puno. They just laughed, having been the ones to warn us not to go there. They were lucky and had been able to experience Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian side without all the hassles of obtaining a Visa since they’re from South Africa. In return they shared their stories of the States, mentioning places I’d never been to but desperately want to visit. As they regaled the sights from the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, I was only able to interject knowing comments about Las Vegas. Each of us were happy that the others had enjoyed their time away from the marina and their boats, but we all agreed that living out of a suitcase is much harder than taking your home with you everywhere you go, even if it needs constant maintenance and repairs.

As we talked, our food was placed in front of us and we eyed the plates that sat in front of us. My three comrades had a heap of ground beef towering over their plates with extras like fried eggs and bacon hanging off. I stood by my fish tacos as they were placed in front of me since they looked delicious, drizzled in sauce and decorated with avocado slices. We all dove into our meals and that’s when I realized my mistake. Although my food looked heavenly, it had absolutely no flavor to it. It was completely bland. Looking at the others I tried to read their faces on how the best burger in the Rio tasted. The consensus was that it was just ok. Not terrible, but not anything special either. The night could have been a disappointment, but I think the fact that we were out enjoying each other’s company overruled any tasteless food we might be eating. The final verdict? I’ll take the dinner club over this any day. Same great company, but much better food.

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burger at Kangaroos

fish tacos at Kangaroos

10.13.13 (7)

Sewing Jerrycan Covers

Sunday October 13, 2013


If I’ve been waiting a long time to complete the shade curtains in the cockpit, I’ve been waiting just as long to do the project of making jerrycan covers. Probably longer. In fact, I think this was supposed to have been completed back in Michigan, before we even left on this trip. As much as I had been putting it off though, I knew that it needed to get finished now. Aside from the constant nagging from Matt, there were other reasons. First, is that our jerrycans look terrible sitting on the side of the boat. They were a visual abomination on an otherwise clean slate as they clashed with the colors and lines of Serendipity, and also making us look as if we were giving a lesson in primary colors. Do you know how many times I’d have to Photoshop those red and yellow cans away for a decent photo? Ok, so maybe it was only for our boat card photo (where I also edited out Rode Trip, ha!), but still.

The second reason I knew I needed to complete this project now is because one of our diesel jerrycans actually received so much sun damage that it cracked and began leaking fuel. Yes, this project could no longer wait. I should say though, that I tried to start making one in Florida, but I failed horribly at that first attempt and didn’t have the energy, or desire, to go back and do it correctly at that time. For 10 months, that sorry excuse for a jerrycan cover sat folded up in the aft cabin with wishes to never see it again.

Now that I really needed to finish what I started, I was happy to have some kind of template to work with. This one was made for our squarish shaped diesel can, and having Matt lug the full five gallons of it’s content to the picnic table in the ranchito, I slipped the cover over it to see it once more swimming in a sea of blue Sunbrella. Doing a bit of tugging and gathering here and there, I realized the four panel design was not necessary and I could take the back one off. After this was done I flipped the fabric inside out, placed it back over the jerrycan, and pinned the loose fabric together in the back. I realized that the original cover was way too long and I needed to take a few inches off from the bottom. Pinning these up as well, I kept making adjustments to the extra fabric in the back, trying to keep the lines as straight as possible. I spent a full day on this one jerrycan, pinning, un-pinning, repositioning, and then pinning again. The next day I went back to sew and ended up with something that wasn’t the prettiest jerrycan cover in the world, but it fit.

The other two jerrycans needed to be made from scratch and I seemed to be at a loss for this. Let me just mention right now that sometimes logistics are not my high suit and I miss very easy solutions that are right in front of my face. I’m sure there was a simple and logical solution on how to make good looking jerrycan covers without a predetermined template, but that’s not the route I took. Oh, I did go for simple, but good looking was left way back in the dust. For the next set of covers I took one of the jerrycans and laid it on it’s side on the Sunbrella fabric. From there I pulled the fabric up to meet the middle of the jerrycan and marked it. I traced the pattern all the way around and then marked another line a half inch further out to allow for the seam. Cutting the fabric I traced this outline once more on the Sunbrella so I could cut the other side.

Once I had both sides cut I pinned the fabric at the edges and placed it over the jerrycan to check it’s fit. I found that the sides were mostly accurate but there was extra fabric gathering at the top. Removing those pins, I positioned them lower for a tighter fit. Then it was on to the sewing machine. With my Brother, I sewed the exact line of the pins, pausing the machine every few moments to take out the next few pins before they were hit with the needle and thread. I was kind of surprised at what ease this project was turning itself out to be. Once I had the two pieces sewn together I once more threw the cover over the can to check it’s fit. There was still a bit of loose fabric at the top, so I once more pinned it closer to the body of the jerrycan. Another run through the sewing machine and a cut of the extra fabric later, I had a simple but snug cover that fit over the jerrycan but still easily lifted off.

I followed these same steps for the last jerrycan (at least I was logistically smart enough to trace and cut the fabric for the second cover from the first one), and I was almost finished. At the top of each cover I sewed a very tight rectangle of thread which I then cut a sliver in the center of to allow for the strap of the wrachet to slide through so we could continue to secure them to the deck. They sure don’t look like much from up close, and had I done a little more researching I probably could have found a better design (although all that sewing lingo completely throws me off and always leaves me utterly confused), I’m happy to have them done. Besides, at they sit strapped to the side of the boat now, they actually look pretty decent from far away.

10.11.13 (1)

First attempt, ……. not even close.

10.11.13 (2)

It starting to take shape!

10.11.13 (3)

A couple more stitches, and the first one is done!

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Matt, Elmari, & Luki at the ranchito

The Dinner Club Reunites

Saturday October 12, 2013

Matt, Elmari, & Luki at the ranchito

We’ve been back at the boat for a couple weeks now, and things have been, well, rather quiet of late. For the first week of our return we didn’t have the company of Luki and Elmari because they were still tooling around on their own vacation around the United States, and Luis has been rather phantom lately, popping up for a moment here or there, but mostly buried under a new pile of projects in his boat. Things around the marina became pretty quiet, and actually a little lonely. There was however a new neighbor that we came back to, but he’s unfortunately the kind of guy that will talk and talk and not get the clue that there are periods in the day that you actually want a little quiet time. We’ve actually been isolating ourselves to the boat much more now so we can get away from his constant yabbering. The guy just never shuts.up.

Even with the past week where Luki and Elmari have been back, everyone has been so focused on returning to their boat and diving into all remaining projects, that we hadn’t had any social time. Just when we were making plans to finally do something about that with Luki and Elmari, checking out a restaurant that proclaims they have the best burger in the Rio, we received a dinner invite from Luis. He was having another couple of cruisers from just down the river over for dinner and wanted to know if we’d like to join. I was ecstatic, the dinner club was finally reuniting. It was such a tradition our first few months in Guatemala that I’d begun to crave them while we were away, the good food and close friends ready to greet you at the end of a day.

As usual, the destitute kids (us) were told not to bring anything, that it was all taken care of. Determined to bring something to the table, literally, I spent the late afternoon making chocolate chip cookies for the group to enjoy as a dessert. When the sun had gone down our group gathered once more in the ranchito, and to add to my already excitement there was another treat waiting for me. Luki had used this as an occasion to whip up his world famous mojitos. World famous because I’m telling you about them now and I have a feeling there’s a few of you scattered about around the globe.

Instantly we all fell back into step as if we hadn’t all just been separated for the past two months.  Conversation flowed, delicious food was served, and that sense of family that we’d been missing since we left Michigan has finally been restored.

Luki's special mojito

grill at ranchito

Luki tending grill

pork chops and rice & beans

Foxy waiting for scraps

weekly photo challenge light source

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There be Light!

weekly photo challenge light source

This weeks challenge from the Daily Post asks us to share a photo that features a light source.  This is a photo taken from an open air room in a vacation house on the Rio belonging to Nico, a friend of Nacho’s.  I love the chandelier that was hanging from the ceiling and illuminating the area, the perfect accent for the room without being overpowering.

Georgie on top of bathroom

Georgie of the Jungle

Wednesday October 9, 2013

Georgie on top of bathroom

When we first got to the marina here in Guatemala back in June, it took Georgie less than 5 days to realize that she could jump from the stern of the boat to the little plank leading to it, and then to dry land dock.  It took her less than 7 days to realize that she could jump from our boat to the neighbor’s.  For a few days after she found all this out we tried to keep her secure to the boat by putting on her Come With Me Kitty harness, and leashing her to one of the cleats or winches in the cockpit.  She was having none of it.  Eventually I talked Matt into letting her roam free.  For the most part, all she wanted was to curl up in a ball in the ranchito and sleep as a cool breeze washed over her.  Something she was not getting in the cockpit.

She began to enjoy her time off the boat so much, that it was hard to get her back on it.  We usually locked her below deck when the sun went down, and she would spend the next two hours sitting on the steps, whining and crying to get out again.  This happened every night.  She began despising her time on the boat so much that we weren’t even sure that going back to life on anchor, where she had free run of the whole boat all day, would make her happy again.  For a short period we even contemplated leaving her in Guatemala, entrusting her to a young girl that works at the marina whom has wanted a cat for a very long time, and has a large enclosed yard for her to wander through all day.

This was not an easy decision to come to, but we thought in the end it might be what’s best for Georgie.  I cried hard that night, thinking what a horrible person I was to adopt her, just to turn around and give her away.  Matt saw how hard this was hitting me and struck up a deal.  While we’d be gone for the boat for six weeks, Georgie was going to be staying at a bungalow with two guys we knew, their two cats, and the option to roam outside to her heart’s content.  If, when we came back to claim her, she went into her old routine of not wanting to be anywhere near the boat, we would give her up and let her live a life on land in Guatemala.  However, if she appeared to miss us and adjusted to life back on the boat, we’d keep her with us.

I had not been very hopeful, seeing how much she loved running about in the marina, and sure that she would forget us a day after we were gone.  Truth be told, a part of me wanted her to be able to forget about us right away because I also couldn’t bear the thought of her thinking that we’d abandoned her, wondering each day why we hadn’t come back to get her.  Those six weeks kind of felt like a lose/lose.  But on the day we arrived back to Guatemala and went to get her, she had nothing but love for us.  It was obvious that she remembered who we were, and instantly let herself fall back into the stage when we first got her and she would not leave our side.  Since we’ve been back on the boat now, she doesn’t whine at night and rarely strays out of our eyesight.  It looks as if her love for us is actually greater than her dislike of living on a boat.  Aawww, makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

That’s not to say that she still hasn’t also been loving her roaming at the marina.  I suspect her time in the wild at the bungalow turned her a little rogue though, and she’s becoming quite the hunter.  Before it wasn’t surprising to catch her at the ranchito chomping away on a moth or any other large flying insect that she’d caught, but now she’s starting to go bigger.  In the past week she has caught 2 bats, how she managed to get them I don’t even know, and then today she brought me this treat.

rain spider

 Don’t worry, it’s not alive here.  I actually had to steal it out of her batting paws and keep her away while I positioned it for a photo.  Then I instantly flung it in the water, fearful that it might be poisonous and that Georgie might try to eat it.  I found out later that it was a harmless rain spider.  Harmless as they may be, I still don’t want one anywhere near me when it’s alive and moving of it’s own accord.  (Ok, so I may have taken it post-mortem and stretched all of it’s legs out so you could see just how big it is in the photo.)

As for Georgie?  She seems to be finding a good balance between boat and land, and I am so happy and relieved that she’ll be staying with us now.  So if you’re a cat owner as well, you must check Observer to know how to treat your cat better. Our only next obstacle with her is finding out exactly what is necessary for a pet passport so we can get her into the Med next year.  Anyone have experience with this or tips they could give me?  I’d love to hear!

Georgie on top of bathroom 2

Georgie batting bugs at the ranchito.

georgie staring at fish in the ranchito

boat cards

Boat Cards

Saturday October 5, 2013

boat cards

Serendipity finally has boat cards!  What are boat cards?, you may ask.  In a nutshell, they’re basically business cards that cruisers trade with one another.  They usually keep basic information such as the captain or crews’ names, the boat name, email addresses, and websites.

If you haven’t been out in the cruising world, you might be scratching your head wondering why people would want or even need something like this.  If you have been out cruising, you totally understand why.  Cruisers like to get together.  We eat, drink, make friendships, and inevitably part ways.  But the thing is, you meet so many great people, you usually want to stay in contact after you’ve met.  Just to see what each other are up to, where everyone is heading, or even for advice on something that you know they know much more about than you do.  And do you know how annoying it is to try and scribble down your information on a sheet of paper every time you come across someone you’d like to keep in touch with?  Imagine doing it at a potluck, your hand would seize up just from constantly writing your information down.

Enter, boat cards.  It’s all the information you need already neatly printed on a handy dandy card.  What you can add to your boat card is completely up to you, and each card varies as much as the people who hand them out.  Another thing I should mention in the cruising world is that you meet so many people, it’s usually not their name you remember at first, but either their boat make or their boat name.  “Do you know where Hideaway is right now?”  “I’m not sure, I think they’re in George Town with Rode Trip“.  That’s basically how conversations go in the cruising world.  This is why almost every boat card will have the minimum information of crews’ names, boat name, and email address.  From there you can go further and add, if you wish, website address, phone numbers, MMSI numbers, and even your hailing port.

For our cards I added these basics of our names, the boat’s name (as well as year; make; and model), our email address, and the website.  Then I even went a step further.  For people to really remember who you are weeks or even months after you’ve handed your boat card off to them, it’s good to give them a little visual reminder of something about you.  Lots of people will put a photo of their boat up on the card, but I took it one step further.  Deciding to print on both sides of our card, I also added a photo of Matt and I to the back.  Now anytime someone picks up our card it will be easier for them to say “Oh yeah, I remember that couple”.

We’ve already collected so many of these through our travels so far, and it’s going to be so nice now having them already printed to hand out in return.  For our cards we went through VistaPrint, ordering 250 cards for our first round.  We upgraded a little bit, adding extra costs to print on the back and also make the front glossy, but if you go with a basic (color) one sided design you can get 250 cards for under $20.  And we have found out they come in very, very handy.



Cayman edit 4

A Lesson in Basic Photoshop Tips to Improve your Cruising Photos

Wednesday October 2, 2013

storm over Grand Cayman Island

Normally I wouldn’t label myself as a photographer, although it is a subject I’ve had much interest in since I was young and even took a few college courses on in my youth (i.e. black and white film because digital was still emerging).  But when my friend Kim over at La Ho Wind started a topic on it for The Monkey’s Fist I thought I’d bring what little knowledge I have about Photoshop to the table.  As a amateur photography enthusiast who took lessons from a video production company,  I’d love to be be able to help out anyone with similar interest, and as a topic coordinator for the The Monkey’s Fist, I love to help out there whenever possible.

Getting back to my credentials.  I shoot with a Sony NEX-5N which isn’t at the top range of digital cameras, but since I’m so accident prone it’s my interim one to show that I can handle things with care.  So far I’m really enjoying what it can do for me though, and it’s nice and compact which means that I can take it anywhere without having to worry about a big bulky camera bag.  Will there be a large fully equipped Cannon in my future someday?  I hope so, but right now my Sony is doing it’s job.

The nice thing about this camera is that it let’s me shoot in RAW.  To explain this, I’m actually going to take a definition right from Kim’s post on photography tips:  RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. When shooting in a format like JPEG, image information is compressed and lost. Because no information is compressed with RAW, you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problems (like over/under exposure or adjusting the white balance) that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format.

It’s nice for me to shoot RAW since, gasp, I’ve only been using the auto setting on my camera lately.  I know I need to take some serious time to figure out how my camera properly works (that was actually one of the disclaimers of Matt letting me get it), but with being so far behind on blogging, I keep putting that off.  Someday, I promise.  But right now, I rely on Photoshop to take my photos from decent to much better.  And these are the tips I’m going to share with you today.

Although one could spend hours on each photograph in Photoshop tweaking many little things about it, I like to focus mainly on the tones.  In fact 90% of what I do do a photo in Photoshop has to do with adjusting tones.  The great part about them is that they are all sliding bars, and very easy to use.  If I’m only adjusting tones on a photo, I can usually go through each one in about 3 minutes.  And who can’t spare 3 minutes to enhance a photo?  There are about 10 tonal sliders I use on each photo.

First let’s start with the definitions of these tools/sliders for a better explanation of what effects they have on your photograph.

(Definitions taken from ‘Adobe Photoshop Elements 7; Classroom in a Book’)

Exposure adjusts the lightness or darkness of an image. Underexposed images are too dark and look dull and murky; overexposed images are too light and look washed out. Use the exposure control to lighten an underexposed image or correct the faded look of an overexposed image.

Blacks specifies which input levels are mapped to black in the final image. Raising the Blacks value expands the areas that are mapped to black.

Whites specifies which input levels are mapped to white in the final image.  Raising the Whites value expands the areas that are mapped to white.

Shadows will lighten the shadows in an image, or darken the highlighs.

Highlights will increase or decrease the highlights in an image

Brightness adjusts the brightness of the image much as the exposure slider does. However, instead of clipping the image in the highlights (areas that are completely white with no detail) or shadows (areas that are completely black with no detail), Brightness compresses the highlights and expands the shadows when you move the slider to the right. In general, use the brightness slider to adjust the overall brightness after you’ve set the white and black clipping points with the Exposure and Blacks sliders.

Contrast is the amount of difference in brightness between light and dark areas of the image. The Contrast control determines the number of shades in the image, and has the most effect in the midtones. An image without enough contrast can appear flat or washed out. Use the contrast slider to adjust the midtone contrast after setting the Exposure, Blacks, and Brightness values.

Clarity sharpens the definition of edges in the image. This process helps restore detail and sharpens that tonal adjustments may reduce.

Vibrance adjust the saturation so that clipping is minimized as colors approach full saturation, acting on all lower saturated colors but having less impact on higher saturated colors. Vibrance also prevents skin tones from becoming oversaturated.

Saturation is the purity, or strength, of a color. A fully saturated color contains no gray. The Saturation control makes colors more vivid (less black or white added) or more muted (more black or white added).

Temperature adjust the coolness or warmness of a photo, focusing on blue and yellow tones.

Although only you can decide how you want your photos to look in the end, what’s appealing to your eye, when first starting out, it helps to work with the histogram until you get the hang of it.  The histogram, usually found by going to Image – Adjustments – Layers, is a little box that will look something like this.


(Image taken from here)

What the histogram is, is a graph that shows the tonal range of the image.  When first learning to use it, the way I was taught was to try and even out the lines as much as possible, trying to bring them from the center evenly all the way to the edges; or if very high on one side and low on the other, bringing everything to the center.  When you get into Photoshop to start working your photo, you’ll see that by adjusting the sliders for the items listed above, it will also change the graph of the histogram.

Putting it all into practice:  I’ll go through two photographs, starting with how the shot looks as it was originally taken from my camera, and the final product, only focusing on a few items at a time so you can see how the each effect the photo.

Here’s one of my favorite shots, taken from Grand Cayman Island. This is how the shot appears, SOOC, or straight out of the camera.

Cayman SOOC

 Here you can see that the photo looks a little washed out, not defined, and not vibrant or colorful.  There are also spots on the photo meaning that the lens needs a good cleaning.

Cayman edit 1

In my first edit here, I’ve only focused on the exposure, blacks, and whites.  The exposure was brought up to +0.70, the blacks brought down to -65, an the whites brought up to +24.  Already you can tell a very visible difference in the photo.

Cayman edit 2

 On my second edit of the photo I’ve gone through and added shadows, highlights, and contrast.  The shadows were brought down to -31, the highlights brought down to -46 (this helped to give more definition to the originally lighter areas such as the sand and clouds), and brought the contrast up to +16.  You should be able to tell that the photo has a little more definition than the last edit.

Cayman edit 3

 On my third edit of the photo I finished with the remaining tones: clarity; vibrance; and temperature.  The clarity was brought up to +18, vibrance brought up to +20, and temperature brought up from 5000 to 5300 (giving the photo more warm and yellow tones).

Cayman edit 4

 On my fourth and final edit, I used a few other tools in Photoshop to tweak the remaining problems.  Using the rotate tool, I rotated the canvas 1.25 degrees counter-clockwise to even out the horizon.  I used the clone stamp tool to get rid of the dots caused by my dirty lens, and I cropped the photo to take care of the uneven edges after rotating.  Pretty nifty, huh?  And it only took me 3 minutes.

Cayman beginning histogram

Cayman end histogram

This is another one of my favorite shots, taken from the harbor of Port Antonio Jamaica.  This is how the shot appears SOOC, or straight out of the camera.

Jamaica SOOC

 Again, you can see that straight out of the camera it looks a little dull and cloudy.

Jamaica edit 1

Edit 1:  Exposure: +0.50;  Blacks: -61;  Whites: +30

Jamaica edit 2

 Edit 2:   Shadows: -44;  Highlights: -31  Contrast: +9

Jamaica edit 3

 Edit 3:   Clarity: +18;  Vibrance: +24;  Temperature: 6950 to 7800;  Color balance: +3 Red

Jamaica edit 4

 Edit 4:  Canvas rotated .5 degrees CCW;  Spots removed with clone stamp;  photo cropped.

Jamaica histogram start

Jamaica histogram finish

So there you have it.  A simple and pain free way to quickly edit your photographs to give them a little extra oomph.  To edit these photos I used Adobe Photoshop CS6, but you should be able to find all tools listed above in any version of Photoshop.  Under my version of Photoshop though, all these tonal adjusters come up as soon as I open any RAW photograph.  If I am working in JPEG, I can find them under ‘Image’ and then ‘Adjustments’.

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