Here in sleepy Koh Phayam, a little island just south of Thailand’s border with Myanmar, the offer of electricity warrants a banner. What’s not making any headlines is the country’s lurch toward a coup, with political unrest and protesters bloodied and killed in Bangkok as the conflict rapidly escalates. The unrest was not even on our radar before we cleared in last November: we were more focused on the simmering rebellion near our entry point in the south, which continues to claim lives.
Once we arrived in Phuket in December, we started to hear stories. The first came innocently enough as a reaction to a question to a taxi driver about recent celebrations for the King’s birthday. Who knew that might be controversial?
The shorthand version: protesters from Thailand’s Democratic Party want the prime minister, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra, to step down; her response to set elections (scheduled for Feb 2) was not acceptable to them. Their reaction is to use protests to effectively shut down Bangkok and as much government activity as possible until she agrees, while making threats to physically remove her, and worse.
The Democratic Party doesn’t want elections, because Yingluck would almost certainly win again. Instead, the goal is to push out elections for indefinite months (years), and put the Democrat’s own “people’s council” in place in the interim. Doesn’t sound very democratic, does it? At the core is a loss of faith in the democratic process overall, which is subverted by corruption on all fronts. Today’s protesters are the same people who were in power just a few years ago, decrying the protests which ultimately cost them power. It’s messy, and this barely scratches the surface.
Does this affect us? It hasn’t yet. We’re aware, and we keep tabs, but we’re in sleepy backwaters that aren’t affected.
The first time we saw any evidence of unrest was at the Thai immigration office in Ranong just a few days ago. We took Totem up to this town at the border of Myanmar to extend our visas, with a nice little angle of approach that let us spend a couple of hours splashing in Burmese water near the invisible dotted line that divided an estuary between the countries.
In the Immigration office waiting area, a patio outside the air conditioned offices, a TV was set up to entertain the lineup of petitioners (our crew, and several dozen Burmese) showed a live feed of the ongoing protests in Bangkok. What looked at first like a fairly routine demonstration got ugly, and before I could think about what the children were watching, there were bleeding and convulsing wounded splashed across the screen.
Later, inside having our extensions processed inside by the very serious and officious immigration staff, yet another TV screen replayed the drama. Although the Burmese waiting their turn were as transfixed as we were, within the office the officials carried on business as usual and didn’t seem to even notice the screen. How can you not notice and be moved by a live feed of a mortally wounded human? It felt surreal.
The event made us think further about our own plans and strategies for dealing with unrest. My friend (and fellow cruiser) Diane has just published an article in Outside, a really interesting piece- Surviving Your Trip- that looks at strategies for overcoming different disaster scenarios while traveling. Diane and I had covered our plans shortly before we took Totem up to Ranong. We’re featured as one of five scenarios for disaster preparedness, but there are great takeaways for cruisers throughout the article.
Reviewing our approach for what we would do and how we’ve planned, both regarding the political instability here in Thailand and for other possible disasters we’ve considered, I found a common thread:
Talk to people.
So much of preparedness is about assuming a defensive posture, of plans and preparation. I think fundamentally, it’s also very much about what we put forward with our words and our actions. No doubt this will sound incredibly naive to many, but I believe that putting faith in human nature and giving it the benefit of the doubt is a positive way to prepare that shouldn’t be discounted. Positive interactions with people we may see routinely in a given area can foster the probability for support or assistance if it’s needed.
We did this in Jayapura, Indonesia, a very militarized town where many branches of armed forces are stationed to quell the Free Papua Movement. Wives of the secret police became my BFFs for the week, and Jamie found a friend in the Navy. We did this over and over in Papua New Guinea, where being forthcoming with the chief upon arrival to an island and open, honest, friendly interaction with islanders put them in our court- a deliberate strategy to help with the petty theft and bigger issues that have challenged other cruisers.
For now, we’re enjoying a very quiet stretch at a quiet island that’s untouched by the action near Bangkok, where a State of Emergency was declared to contain the protests. No action here. Just dogs, sitting in the water on the beach, because they can.
We’re grateful to be far from the action, and hope that the competing voices for power in Bangkok can see their way beyond self-interest to truly serve the Thai people.
If you’d like to read more, Time has a good synopsis that hits on the core issues and complexities.
Politically savvy followers know that reading this on the Sailfeed website puts a little cash in our kitty for the Totem Thai Exit Strategy.
Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 22, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
It’s great that boaters on research missions are constantly (though quietly) digging through the Panbo archives (or using Google’s neat site search with the same intent). But when one is inspired to write a detailed, articulate rebuttal to a stand I took years ago on a subject that’s still relevant, it deserves special attention. Bo Collier is working hard to figure out a new electronics system for his 53-foot 1978 Hatteras LRC trawler and he takes exception to my notion that NMEA 2000 certification is not an absolute must when choosing devices that use the data standard. What follows is his argument with my retorts interspersed and plenty of room at the end for you to add your opinion…
Ben, today was one of those occasions when I awoke at 1:30 AM and felt compelled, for God knows what reason, to pick up my iPad. Bouncing around your site I found “NMEA 2000 certification, the elephants in the room“ and after reading it and all the posts felt that I must pen something from the perspective of a recreational user. The NMEA Certified and compatible issue struck me a bit different than it seems to have struck you.
Having read enough blogs I know that any posting of my comments will surely bring about a reprimand about being dependent on electronics. Enough please! Anyone that leaves port without some sort of paper chart and compass probably deserves whatever eventuality they get should the sea gods frown on their day of good spirits. Yes, I can read a paper chart and use a compass to plot a course. I can apply emergency measures to get me home if needed. I plan, plan, then plan again; which my wife believes is only done for the sake of driving her batty. I want comfort and safety when on the water. Let me rephrase that, I want safety then comfort when on the water. But, who in their right mind wants to pilot a 53-foot, 75,000 pound, 8-knot trawler through treacherous waters with a compass and chart? I like keeping a chart open at the helm to verify, but do we really want to return to the days of paddling at 20-degrees to the prevailing winds to find the next island? So, like my planning, I am spending hundreds of hours researching any equipment I put on my boat. And, that is where this whole NMEA 2000 stuff takes me.
Bo, You won’t catch me judging anyone’s paper chart habits. I think that there are lots of ways to navigate safely, plus lots of ways to do it badly, and that NMEA 2000 is key to the excellent electronic tools we now have available to use well.
I read over the NMEA Certification Process Overview on the NMEA web site. I gained a better perspective after reading all the posts resulting from your article. There are some very sharp folks that come to your site. But, it appears there are test methods and a verification process as outlined in the NMEA Certification Criteria and Test Methods (Appendix C in the Overview). There is a NMEA 2000 Certification Test tool which, from what I can tell, gathers specific data from a device so the data may be validated by NMEA. I am guessing that a NMEA representative doesn’t show up with a ball bat and begin beating the everloving you know what out of the device, as they attest to do at Underwriters Laboratory. NMEA publishes a set of criteria, provides a verifiable means of testing, and offers NMEA 2000 Certification should the device pass the tests.
As I understand it, the NMEA 2000 certification tool — which is essentially a special software program (that cost a lot of money to develop) — is only intended to test the behavior of a device on an N2K network. Does it identify itself properly? Does it send out data in the right way that won’t interfere with higher priority data-like switch commands? That sort of thing. But the tool does not test the data content of a particular device, which is a near impossible task if you think it through. So you could conceivably buy a certified NMEA 2000 depth transducer that did not output a standard N2K Depth message (PGN) or output one that was always wrong. Certification does largely assure that a product will not mess up a network, but the other issues are left for the market place to sort out :-)
It would probably be a good thing if NMEA made public more of Appendix C in the Standard so that consumer doing serious research like you could better understand what is and isn’t tested.
With respect to companies (manufacturers) who put NMEA 2000 Compatible, it is my opinion that NMEA should give fair warning, then use the power of the court to go after any company that violates the registered entity of NMEA 2000. I don’t mean to sound harsh, and it appears that NMEA may have missed the boat (could not resist) by not registering the entire” NMEA 2000 Certified” name, to place the registered mark after the word “Certified” and group the statement, instead of after the 2000. I can bet dollars to donuts there is not a single recreational boater in my marina (mostly larger boats) that has a clue there is a difference between NMEA 2000 Certification and NMEA 2000 Compatible. Hey guys – yes, you guys that manufacture and go through all the trouble and costs of certifying a product – do you give a hoot about what happens should a non-certified device start throwing out odd sentences at our MFD’s here in the real world? Help us out here, please.
I don’t know about the details of NMEA’s intellectual property claims, Bo, but I do know that the organization has sometimes at least threatened action against companies claiming N2K compatibility. In fact, I took a lot of flak from some readers for defending NMEA in such a situation. Happy to add that the offending company not only “came to Jesus,” but is now an active participant in NMEA standards making.
How would Furuno, Raymarine, Simrad or others look at this? Not sure! From what I am reading they all have certified, non-certified, and certified but only compatible equipment. These companies know what they have. They know some of their equipment needs to be backward compatible, and they know NMEA 2000 is a voluntary standard. If I were king, I mean if I was a big wig at NMEA, I would gather all of the NMEA 2000 Certification members and let them know the perilous road NMEA is on if they don’t stop the misuse of the NMEA 2000 trademark. Remember, we recreational boaters quickly get an attitude about an entire product line when one device starts acting up.
The big manufacturers do not run NMEA and their relationship with it seems complicated, as I tried to explain once. The issue of daisy chaining N2K instruments, which I’ve also covered, illustrates what I mean. Furuno, Simrad, B&G and Raymarine all sell instruments with two N2K ports, so that an installer can chain them together easily — as illustrated below in a 2008 Panbo entry called NMEA 2000 Outlaw! – even though the hardware details in the NMEA 2000 Standard don’t permit it. NMEA explains why in this PDF.
I believe that all the daisy chain instruments are what you term “certified but only compatible equipment,“ meaning they pass the certification software test but can’t be certified just because of the hardware issue. And I keep hoping that some compromise will be reached — like a sticker on every instrument warning about the danger of daisy chaining, which is completely optional. But so far the situation remains the same with neither side budging, and the Certification concept suffering.
That’s not to say that some very good NMEA 2000 compatible equipment is available from all of the manufacturers, I’m sure there is. However, my comments stem from a non-profit national certification association I sit on that aggressively goes after companies that misrepresent by misusing the certification logo or name. First a cease and desist letter and, if necessary, they will go to legal means. Personally, I like it. My twenty-person company invests thousands each year supporting this organization. We donate money, time and technical expertise in support so they may pay operating expenses and maintain a reliable certification standard. I would rather drive the bus, or at least have a seat on the bus, than to be standing on the sidelines as it whizzes by; that’s entirely my choice and goes to my point. Not only does my company benefit by advertising the organization’s logo (which goes directly to client and consumer relations), those seeking certification know the difference between Certification and Certification-like. There are some well-founded competitors who chose to go in a different direction. When one used the logo without permission they were slapped down pretty hard. The organization I belong to does, in fact, set the standard. So, why not allow the public to know there is a difference?
Again, I do think that NMEA polices the NMEA 2000 logo. I also think that most manufacturers large and small are honoring and supporting the standard more than ever. I just noticed, for instance, that a bunch of BEP CZone devices just made the 2014 Certified list on NMEA’s front page (even though they’ve been available for at least two years and work fine in my experience).
Ben, I don’t know if there are products that “probably won’t work on a NMEA 2000 network” as purported by Steve in his article. I don’t disagree with your comments either. My entire point, and yes, there is one, is the National Marine Electronics Association needs to do a better job of protecting their name and logo. Do that and it seems most of this controversy would go away. By protecting their name they protect recreational boaters for whom the standard is maintained. I personally believe using the NMEA 2000 Compatible is sales trickery. Heck, unless I am really missing the point, it does not seem that difficult. NMEA created a specific standard that sets criteria for a manufacturer to follow and provides a testing and verification process. Either it meets the standard or it does not. Certification always attests to an established set of criteria. We don’t want to learn about “compatible,” “works with, ” or “NMEA Lite,” (I threw that one in…) after we purchase and install a device by reading the fine print too late or by being laughed at by a NMEA installer. The product that is compatible may work just fine, but by NMEA protecting their registered trademark and name it protects me and all other recreational boaters. And please, to every manufacturer’s sales rep and technician that may read this or see me coming to your booth at the next boat show: don’t make me pull my pants down around my ankles as you try to enlighten me. Believe me when I say I am all ears and want to learn more than you can imagine. So just be honest. Your products are, or they are not, NMEA 2000 Certified.
I stand by my original thesis. NMEA and NMEA 2000 are great for boaters, I think, but certification is not a black and white issue for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Marine electronics is a relatively tiny, but vastly complicated, industry and thus, almost nothing about it is subject to simple dictates. I know, for instance, that Larry Anderson — who was NMEA Technical Director during N2K’s early years and then a principal at Maretron until he retired — now feels that the “plug and play” aspect of N2K was oversold. Lots of do-it-yourselfers have had good experiences with it, but often a pro installer should be involved sooner rather than later.
Finally, here is one example of how this concept, or point of mine, worked for me. I am currently installing Maretron digital gauge displays for Hercules and Big Boy (sorry, that would be my Detroit 4/53′s). After researching several alternatives to get analog engine data to digital I settled on Actisense. The EMU-1 that does this fancy work IS NOT, as I could find, a NMEA 2000 Certified product. However, my research found that Actisense has many products that are certified and they are listed as a NMEA member. This gives me comfort, and I am better prepared to make an informed decision. Not all recreational boaters are ignorant. We just need the facts, please. Regards, Bo
Well, Bo, that also seems like a good example of my attitude toward certification. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that the EMU-1 was not certified (yet) though I’ve trying to pay more attention to that and I’m a big fan of the device. At any rate, thank you very much for articulating your concerns. I’ll bet that you’ll end up with a wonderful electronics setup and that you’ll understand it. Now, I hope that interested readers will add their thoughts.Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.
“Are we really going to get a cyclone? A real one?” The girls looked at me with shining eyes, as though I had brought Christmas back eleven months early.
“Yep.” I shoved the awning onto the spare bunk. “It’s a real cyclone. Tropical Cyclone June.”
“Tropical Cyclone Juin,” said Indy.
“Do we have to go to the cyclone shelter?” asked Stylish.
“Is the wind going to blow the boat over?” Indy made wind hands, puffing out her cheeks and destroying an imaginary fleet.
“Do we get to use the cyclone lines?”
“When is it going to get here?”
“Guys,” I said, pausing in my struggle with the awning, “it is a cyclone, but not a big one. And it is going to pass to the west of us, so we should be just fine. It is going to be pretty windy and rainy for a few days. That’s it, probably.”
“Like New Zealand?” Stylish made a face.
Their little shoulders slumped. What a rip-off. Here was a genuine, super-exciting natural disaster, and Mom was acting like it was just another day. Parents don’t understand anything.
But they kept hoping. Erik and I, meanwhile, were busy trying to get the sails down. We didn’t expect Cyclone June to cause us much trouble, but still. This was a good chance to get ready for the season,and better now than when things unexpectedly take a turn for the worse.
Watching us got old fast. So the kids appropriated the hammock, made themselves into a Chinese dragon, and waited for the cyclone prep to become more fun.
Our main is too big to fold on the sidedeck without tearing it (and our marriage) to shreds. We all trooped down the dock to a sufficiently dog-poop-less area.
The wind was picking up, so we needed the girls for their skills as giant paperweights.
But as soon as we set them free, they started running around in circles again, waving palm fronds and climbing the green buoy that serves as a jungle gym to the marina’s smaller residents.
“Is the cyclone coming now?” asked Indy as she ran past.
It was worse than a long car ride.
And finally, we were done. Papillon was naked. Extra battens and spars lashed to the deck. Sails below. Lines tied off. All of us were ready for Cyclone June.
…which turned out to be the non-event we predicted. The system stayed far enough offshore that we had steady winds, but it hardly gusted above 30 knots. There was a lot of rain, but it is so warm here that it was a minor inconvenience. We stayed in, watched movies, ate a lot, and did our normal stuck-inside things.
But long before the baby cyclone had arrived, the girls had lost interest. Their first real cyclone, and nothing happened.
As far as they are concerned, we cried wolf. If a real cyclone comes, I am going to have such a hard time convincing them to take it seriously.
We like to think we’re pretty observant about the world around us. In this region vigilance is essential, thanks to the many fish traps and unattended fish nets in local waters. A thin stake with a ragged flag, a piece of Styrofoam that is the body double of floating garbage may be the only sign of prop-snagging lines in our path. There were masses of these as we worked our way coastwise to the north from Phuket, so Jamie and I spent a lot of time glued to the scenery around us. With glorious sailing weather (finally, after so many miles of motoring or motorsailing) it was hardly a burden.
A few boats headed north at the same time, as eager as we were for a break from the crowds in Phuket. Traveling in company means the chance for a few shots of boats under sail.
You know the saying- if there’s another boat on the horizon, you’re racing? Jamie was in his element as we cruised raced north with Kittani.The province north of Phuket is the least populated in Thailand. Only a handful of communities broke the wall of green and occasional beaches along the way. That, and approximately 100,000 fish traps.
At one point, we passed a shipyard, with what appeared to be bamboo frames forming a grid for scaffolding to work on boats careened on the sand.To the north end was a rusted out cruise ship- I snapped a few shots as we went by.
After arriving in Koh Phayam, we settled in with the sunset. Niall was flipping through pictures from the trip north and got to the few of that rusted old hulk. He called to me, frustration in his voice. “Why didn’t you tell me that we passed a World War II era wreck?” Well…because I didn’t know we had? So much for the powers of observation.Niall’s interest in WWII started a few years ago, but kicked into high gear while we were in Papua New Guinea in 2012 and had the chance to see and explore a number of wrecks, on land and in the water. It was immediately obvious to him that what Jamie and I took for an an abandoned commercial ship was an LST (landing ships that carried tanks and personnel, landing them on an unimproved shoreline). We even discussed it as we sat in the cockpit, passing by, wondering about the fate of the rusty hulk. He’s a researcher like his mama, so Niall dug in to try and identify the original name of the ship. We didn’t see anything obvious at first blush, just what appeared to be a Thai name. He found that a number of LSTs had been sold to the Thai navy after the war, and their names carried a theme: Lincoln County, Stark County, Stone County, Dodge County. Zooming in, there appears to be a match with one of the “missing” LSTs, Dodge County. Two of the sites that Niall uses to find and reference information about the wrecks we’ve seen, PacificWrecks and NavSource, don’t have a current location for the Dodge County. He dug further, and couldn’t find it anywhere- it was just noted as lost. He’s thrilled to have “found” this lost ship and set about providing updated data to the websites… and composing a poem to LST-722, Dodge County.
Commissioned at the close of forty-four
She departed to serve on many a shore
And this she did with great renown
Till the end of the war had come around
She cheated the sea of a grave so deep
Instead lies beached in eternal sleep
With the retention and memories of her captain and crew
Of the old LST, seven twenty-two
—-If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’re a reader with a keen sense of observation. Thank you! Thanksn also to the crew of Kittani for sharing their photos of Totem.
I will have WAY more to say about this in due time, but wanted to post it immediately. Thanks to Dave for sharing – you know who you are. Might we have finally reached a tipping point when it comes to taking offshore sailing seriously, instead of a ride to warmer weather?
Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 19, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
My friend and colleague, Charlie Doane, has been making the pages of Panbo since at least 2005 (sometimes even comically), and he does seem to get seriously offshore more than any other active writer I can think of. But, damn, it’s unexpected to post an image of him being hoisted aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter last week. The abandonment of the very first Alpha 42 catamaran, Be Good Too, has been covered extensively elsewhere, probably in most accurate detail by Charlie himself, and discussions about the incident rage in various online forums. While I think that chewing over maritime casualties like this is a good thing — even if it does bring out the pedantic ass in some of us — let me also suggest an appropriate course of action for interested bystanders…
I’m already in awe of what the Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) teams can do, but seeing a buddy in the middle of it adds another level of awesome. The screen grabs above are from the USCG video and that’s Charlie just about to jump off the stern with the encouragement of rescue swimmer John Knight. Note from their 36° 10′N, 71° 32′W position that they are about 300 lonely miles off Virginia. Besides the Jayhawk helicopter, the CG also deployed a C-130 aircraft and made helo refueling arrangements with a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, as described in this release.
As explained in that release and also in Charlie’s account, the helo transfer wasn’t done in desperation. The folks on Be Good Too were just hoping for a ride to land from a passing AMVER ship, and the CG waited overnight before sending the Jayhawk, but surely its four-person crew were thinking of the Navy helicopter crew that crashed off Virginia just a few days before. Nonetheless, Charlie told me that they were super calm and professional, if not downright charming, and he also let me publish these photographs taken inside the helicopter.
These two images of swimmer Knight and hoist operator Brian Light slinging up the catamaran’s owners — Charlie thinks himself lucky to get the basket — are particularly worth clicking on to see at greater resolution. Try to imagine the ferocious noise and vibration of the Jayhawk, along with the fact that they pulled off four boat-to-helo transitions like this. The USCG seems to have a remarkable success rate with this process, but I hope that doesn’t mask all the technology, training and courage that makes it possible.
Another thing to consider is that the Coast Guard is arguably not an easy service to be part of. I’ve heard similar thoughts many times, as in the words of this writer: ”A strong sense of tradition, an underdog mentality and a ‘make do with less’ attitude are the hallmarks of the U.S. Coast Guard. Unique among U.S. armed forces, the Coast Guard is perpetually on active duty, chronically underfunded, entrusted with a vast array of responsibilities, but often overlooked.”
That’s why I think we should all take in the look of relief and justifiable pride on the face of AST2 John Knight — Aviation Survival Technician, 2nd class; rescue swimmer — and ask ourselves what we can do to improve the lives of the 35,000 active duty Coasties. Fortunately, there’s an excellent organization dedicated to just that task. Don’t be put off by the black tie dinners you may notice at the Coast Guard Foundation site; their good work extends throughout the chain of command (and, besides, those benefits raise a lot of money).
In fact the foundation makes its financial statements readily available, so you can verify that a large portion of any dollars you contribute will support sail training at the academy, recreational equipment on the cutters, relief for families in need, and many other items large and small. A few years ago I shared a meal with President Anne Brengle and was very impressed with what I heard, but it was a later incident that made me a true believer…
In the fall of 2012 I enjoyed the fairly famous Annapolis Boat Show evening chaos when all the sailboats exit their show so that the powerboats can get into theirs. I realized that a couple of the friendly guys keeping enthusiasts from falling off the floats were Coasties moonlighting as show security, and I asked about the foundation with no expectation that they would even know what this stranger in the dark was talking about. But one of them got quite serious and said something like “The Coast Guard Foundation helps every one of us every day in some way or other.” It couldn’t have been a stronger endorsement.
I’m closing with two photos taken by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert at the Elizabeth City CG station where the crew of Be Good Too were reunited with terra firma. Charlie told me that one of the personnel there volunteered an hour ride to the airport and wouldn’t even accept gas money when they stopped to fill his truck. He also expressed appreciation and sorrow for the owners who just saw their cruising dreams shattered. I think that the image of them below could be a poster for the sort of deep relief the Coast Guard often delivers when things go badly wrong, and it might also give pause to those who jump to blame.
That said, there are interesting Sailing Anarchy and CruisersForum discussions about the incident, and I’m glad that Charlie is willing to confront the critics. (Note that both our blogs also appear in the nifty SailFeed blog garden, though potentially with different comments than what’s on our own sites). I’m going to follow the discussions myself, and I’m tentatively hoping that the Alpha 42 concept, which Charlie still thinks of as a good design, survives what may have been poor initial execution. I doubt I’ll be dissuaded from thinking of multihulls as reasonable for prudent bluewater cruising, either, though I will listen to the arguments against.
Today, though, I also donated more money to the Coast Guard Foundation and I hope you will too, even if you don’t care that Charlie Doane lives to sail another day (I kid, I kid). After all, it might be your ass in a sling eventually! (Honest, I never realized how appropriate that saying is until just now.)
Silly me. I thought publishing my account of abandoning Be Good Too would decrease rather than increase speculative and critical commentary among the baying dogs of the Internet. I suppose I should have known better. Unlike some folks out there, I don’t have the free time to write multiple screeds on all the sailing forums, so I thought I’d address some issues that have been raised here.
1. The most substantive point that has been raised is that it was not wise of us to attempt a non-stop passage from New York to St. John in January in an untried prototype boat. This certainly bears discussing. Gunther and Doris had been waiting for the boat for some time and were eager to get south ASAP. I am sure they are now second-guessing their decision in retrospect. They did hire Hank to help them do the passage, and that at least was a smart move.
As for Hank’s perspective, he’s a professional delivery skipper. Taking brand new lightly equipped boats into shitty weather is a big part of that job, at least if you really want to make a living at it. Some have suggested he should have tried to persuade Gunther and Doris to hop down the coast to the Bahamas instead, but in doing that he would effectively be talking them out of hiring him. I would guess that he now might be a bit more careful about accepting hull no. 1 prototype jobs.
As for me, I have some experience crewing off-season deliveries, including in brand new boats, and I knew what to expect. I knew we’d be in a gale or two and expected some things might break. I would never have done this trip with a skipper I didn’t know and trust. In retrospect I can certainly say I will be more careful in the future about doing off-season passages in prototype boats.
One interesting question to be asked is whether a mid-winter passage south is in fact more difficult than a fall passage. Winter weather is harsh, but it is more predictable. In the fall you are dancing between late-season hurricanes and early-season winter storms. In the winter, at least, you won’t have some squirrely tropical system doing something entirely unexpected (like Mitch in 1998).
There is an argument to be made that experienced sailors taking a boat south in winter are behaving more responsibly than inexperienced sailors who try to go south in the fall without professional help.
2. Many people have suggested we should have tried to do more to get the boat to shore. Most of the discussion has been about dropping the bent rudder and steering the boat without it. In this case, however, the rudders had positive buoyancy and only a couple of inches of clearance over the tops of their stocks. We did not have a 10-ton hydraulic jack (thanks for that tip, Evans), and I doubt it would have been useful if we had. We had no long levers. It never occurred to us to cut a hole in the deck over the rudder stock or to destroy the bearing tube–this, I submit, would have been a bad idea given the high likelihood of encountering another gale.
We also never discussed getting in the water to saw off the rudder. I would hope most people would understand that this idea is simply idiotic. We had no tool capable of doing it, and even if we had it would be impossible to accomplish working in the water under the hull in the open ocean.
The one interesting suggestion that has been made is that we might have removed the starboard engine’s starter when the engine was running and put it on the port engine to start it, too. Gunther actually suggested this, and Hank and I thought it sounded crazy. None of us are really diesel mechanics.
I now seriously would like to know: is this really possible? Has anyone done it? If so, please contact me. If it is possible, I’d like publish a story in the magazine on what’s involved and how to do it.
3. I have been most surprised by the comments made by Jon Eisberg, an experienced bluewater sailor I previously had some respect for. He has stated that the “deal-breaker” for him was the loss of electrical power, and that he would have aborted and headed for shore at that point. But, as I stated clearly in my account, we first became aware we were losing power after 0700 hrs on Saturday. We got hit by the wave and lost steering at about 1130 hrs the same day.
We weren’t that concerned about the loss of power in any event and spent little or no time trying to solve that problem. It may surprise Jon to learn this, but it is possible to sail long distances without any engines or electrical power. Some people even go out in boats that don’t have engines or electrical systems in the first place. All we needed to get to shore were sails and an operable steering system, so we focussed our attention on solving the rudder problem.
Jon has also criticized me personally and has suggested that our abandoning Be Good Too is very analogous to the abandonment last year of Wolfhound, about which I wrote at some length. But the two situations are obviously quite different. Wolfhound had sails and a working rudder and was getting close to Bermuda. Her immediate problem was that she had no electrical power, and her crew couldn’t navigate without it. All they had was an iPad with a low battery. We had a handheld GPS and plenty of double-A batteries and navigation wasn’t an issue. Our only serious problem, as I thought I made clear, was that we had no working rudders.
There’s nothing like a story on the best places to sail to start a bit of a debate. Last time we ran one, some SAIL writers weren’t too happy that their own home waters were not included. Doubtless a lot of readers will feel the same way. You’d think that predictable breezes, ample sunshine, plentiful and attractive anchorages, and interesting topography would comprise irrefutable proof of one region’s superiority over another, but sailors mostly being independently minded, stubborn people, that would be too easy. Of all the elements that shape a total sailing experience, these are only the tangible ones.
I once shared a charter boat with a crusty old-timer who lived near the Bristol Channel on England’s west coast. There, the tide sluices out at eight knots to unveil hungry mudbanks and the clouds bunch up like huge dark fists trying to fend off the remorseless cold fronts marching in from the west; not what most of us call a dream destination. “It’s okay here,” he said, staring out over our sunlit anchorage in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, “but you know, if I had to choose, I’d rather sail back home.”
Most sensible non-sailors would find a statement like this somewhat perverse, but I knew where he was coming from. If you sail the same stretch of water year in, year out, be it a bay, a lake, an estuary or a few miles of coastline, you tune into its moods. You learn where the current flows strongest, where the shallow patches are in the marina access channel, and which is the best anchorage for any given wind direction. You know which restaurants serve the best bar snacks at happy hour, and when you have to arrive at a harbor in order to be sure of a mooring. You have a good idea of where the fish bite, and the height of tide needed before you can sneak into that secluded cove. You know where the best launch ramps are, and maybe you’re on first-name terms with the harbormaster.
I’ve sailed in some fairly exotic places but oddly enough most of my fondest memories involve the murky waters, fast-running tides and often lousy weather of the place I called home for many years. There is much to be said for the comforting embrace of familiarity, even if it often seems that on the other side of the fence the water is always warmer and the sky always bluer.
Matt and Andy sat down again on Burnside Street in Annapolis to discuss the Ocean Research Project’s upcoming expedition to Japan. Matt and NIcole Trenholm, his scientific partner, will set out from California in a newly built Harbor 29 to do a plastics research voyage in the Pacific. It’ll be the longest-ever research trip of that nature (6,500 nautical miles nonstop), in the smallest-ever boat used for such a purpose. Nicole call it their ‘vessel of opportunity’ – far from ideal, but good enough to do the work that needs to be done. Matt and Andy also discussed the Kiwi Spirit failures towards the end, so listen through for that. Check out oceanresearchproject.org to get involved with Matt’s project.
This might be the last of this I post for a while, but it’s pretty interesting. I wish it was more detailed, but then Dr. Paris certainly had more important things to tend to. I’m thankful (and frankly surprised), he was able to send me anything at all.
I emailed his shore team a few days ago after speaking with Patrick from Farr, and they forwarded along a few questions I had for Dr. Paris to try and clear up some of the misinformation that’s been going around the web. These are those questions and his reply, unedited, plus some commentary from myself in brackets:
1. How, and how many times did the boat crash gybe?
2. Was there a preventer rigged when it did so?
NO. REGARDLESS I DONT BELIEVE IT WOULD HAVE HELD AND HAVE SEEN FAILURES IN SIMILAR SITUATIONS.
[Still unclear why he wouldn't have had a preventer rigged, but there might be a good reason, so let's wait and see...]
3. What caused the staysail fitting at deck level to fail, and why did the extrusion get so damaged?
A SPINNAKER HALYARD WRAPPED AROUND THE TOP OF THE FURLER AT THE HEAD AND THE FURLING TORQUE CAUSED THE SEPARATION. SAIL IS USEABLE WITHIN LIMITS.
[Furling wraps can really eff your day up. I saw one once before the Carib1500 that unscrewed the Sta-lok terminal on the headstay and brought down the whole thing. They were lucky the mast didn't fall down with it (it had an inner forestay, so some support). Furling systems work great, but you have to be really careful with them, because the consequences of a failure can be severe. I imagine Dr. Paris has some regrets about this one, as it MIGHT have been avoidable.]
4. What broke during the gybe, and is that the reason for the boom-end failure? Did the gybe cause the most damage, or was it something else?
THE BOOM END PULLEYS THAT FUNCTION WITH THE OUTHAUL, PREVENTER AND FIRST REEF CLEW WERE YANKED OUT OF ALIGNMENT AND DOWN INTO THE BOOM. THE BOOM ALSO CRACKED.
[That must have been a hell of a gybe!]
5. Generally, we’re you happy with the design and layout of the boat and it’s sailing systems? Would you have changed anything now in hindsight?
THATS A TOUGH QUESTION AS EVEN IN NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES ONE IS ALWAYS LEARNING AND WOULD MAKE CHANGES ON A SECOND MODEL. BUT YES I AM HAPPY BUT IF I AM TO RESTART I HAVE SOME SERIOUS QUESTIOINS AND BUNCHES OF IDEAS TO FOLLOW UP ON. THE DESIGN AND BUILD ARE NOT AN ISSUE. I WISH TO TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY AND AS IS MY CUSTOM SPEAK NO ILL BECAUSE THIS AT PRESENT IS A ONE OFF AND THEREFORE SHORT COMMINGS CAN ONLY BE EXPECTED. i COULD THINK OF NO OTHER BOAT FOR A RESTART IN NOVEMBER.
[Good on Dr. Paris for taking the responsibility onto himself. It will be fun to see what changes he has in mind for the boat, if nothing else than as a learning experience for anyone heading offshore. I'll be rooting for him if he does indeed decide to restart. He's almost in Cape Town, so good luck on the last bit of his journey.]
“I can say for certain that was the best helicopter ride of my life. It was also the best shower.” –statement by Gunther Rodatz to U.S. Coast Guard airbase personnel; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Jan. 14, 2014
THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN a lot of buzz about what happened Tuesday morning approximately 300 miles off the Virginia coast, when owners Gunther and Doris Rodatz, together with delivery skipper Hank Schmitt and myself, abandoned the 42-foot catamaran Be Good Too courtesy of a U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter crew. As is usually the case, much of it has been speculative, and some people have complained that we need not have left the boat. True facts have been a little hard to come by. Here on my own blog, at least, I can do what I can to correct that.
We departed Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City, bound for St. John, USVI, at about 1430 hrs on Wednesday, January 8. It was bone cold outside, and the boat had been frozen into her berth by thin ice. The marina’s pump-out boat came around to act as an ice-breaker and helped bust us loose, and after a brief stop at the marina’s fuel dock, we headed down New York Harbor under power. We unrolled the solent jib after passing through the Verrazano Narrows, but Hank didn’t want anyone on deck handling the mainsail in the bitter cold. We motorsailed south all through the first night under the jib alone, staying inside the heated interior as much as possible, as the decks outside were soon coated in a skin of ice from the light freezing spray.
Frozen in Jersey City
By the following morning after breakfast it was warm enough that the deck was clear of ice and Gunther and I raised the mainsail, taking care to stay clear of the big chunks of ice that came toppling out of the sail as it was hoisted. We shut down the engines briefly and tried proceeding under sail alone, but the wind was getting weaker and soon we started up one engine and started motorsailing again so as to keep our speed up.
We motorsailed all through the rest of Thursday, until very early Friday morning, when the wind increased enough to shut down the engine. By sunrise we were close-reaching at 6-plus knots in 17-20 knots of southeast breeze. Not long afterward, however, the wind decreased and shifted to due south, and we spent much of the day motorsailing again, tacking back and forth, to make progress southward. After sunset the wind started building and we were able to proceed to the southeast under sail alone.
This was our best sailing during the entire trip. During my evening watch I had the boat running at 8-9 knots with spikes over 10 in 22-26 knots of apparent wind. Shortly before handing over to Gunther at 2130 hrs I took one reef in the main. It was also clear we had entered the Gulf Stream, as the water temperature had risen dramatically.
After midnight on Saturday, January 11, I noted from my berth that the boat’s motion had increased quite a bit. Coming on deck at 0400 hrs to relieve Hank I found the wind was blowing over 30 knots. There were two reefs in the main, and the jib had been roller-reefed to about half size. Waves were now occasionally falling on the center and starboard-side forward windows and some minor leaks had appeared around the edges of the window frames.
Heavy weather, as viewed from inside
Very shortly after Gunther came up to relieve me at 0700 hrs an autopilot alarm sounded indicating power was low. Gunther started up the generator, but found it was not charging the batteries. We started up the starboard-side engine, but it also was not charging the batteries. In the middle of all this, the single-line sheet to the self-tacking jib suddenly parted. We knew the sheet lead for this sail was not ideal and probably should have already rolled it up by now, given the conditions. I now immediately furled the sail, while Gunther did something, I’m not sure what, that got the batteries receiving a charge from the engine. I woke up Hank at this point and informed him we were starting to have “adventures.”
We now set up the boat to motorsail itself in a fore-reaching configuration under just the double-reefed main (there was no third reef). We locked the helm off hard to port to keep her from rounding up and were making progress eastwards at 4-5 knots. This seemed stable, though we were still getting whacked occasionally by waves on the starboard bow.
At about 1130 hrs we took a huge direct hit all across our front windows. The wave that hit us seemed much larger than the rest and was running at a different angle, such that it hit us from directly ahead instead of on the starboard quarter. Hank and I were in the saloon right behind the windows at the time. A fair amount of water squirted in all around the edges of the window panes and one large piece of trim was blown right off one vertical frame. The windows themselves, thankfully, held up fine. The wave stopped us dead in our tracks and even seemed to back us up a bit. A large amount of water surged up our stern and blew a large teak step right off its mounts.
The missing teak step
Immediately after the hit we found we had trouble controlling the boat. It seemed at the time that our loss of forward momentum had made it hard to steer, and the boat started spinning in circles, tacking and then jibing. We started up the other engine, and even with both engines running hard we could not regain control. After our second uncontrolled jibe, Hank ordered that we should drop the mainsail and lie ahull to the waves. The wind by now was blowing over 40 knots from the south and seas were running about 18-20 feet.
Frankly, this was the one point in our whole adventure where I was most nervous. I have sailed in 40 knots or more several times, but I had never before just laid to the wind and let a boat drift broadside to waves in conditions like this. I had always believed this was a bad idea and that it is best to adopt more active tactics. But the boat was very happy. The beam of the Alpha 42 (we were aboard hull no. 1, which had just been delivered to Gunther and Doris) is very wide for a cruising cat of this size, with an unusually high bridgedeck, and we had remarked earlier that the hull was very stiff and its motion was remarkably comfortable. We now were amazed at how stable it seemed lying to these large seas. The rolling was not very pronounced and only rarely did waves slap the boat or land on deck.
That afternoon we contacted our weather-router, Ken McKinley, by sat-phone and he advised that we were now south of the Gulf Stream and that we could expect the wind to increase to 45 knots before switching to the west. We continued lying to the waves through the rest of the afternoon and all of the night, during which the wind did indeed increase into the mid-40s, with gusts to over 50. Gunther later insisted he saw one hit 60.The boat, however, was still quite comfortable, and we bided our time standing watches, reading, and sleeping.
Chilling during the gale. Yes, we were very comfortable!
On relieving Hank at 0430 hrs early Sunday morning, he informed me we now had no electrical power. He had started the port-side engine shortly after midnight and found it was not charging the batteries. Meanwhile, the wind had also shifted west and was beginning to subside.
After sunrise we took stock of our situation. We first tried our engines: the port-side engine now would not start; the starboard engine would start, but wasn’t charging the batteries; the generator would not start. So we tried sailing, as the wind was now only blowing about 25 knots and seemed much more manageable. We rigged a new sheeting system for the jib, with one centerline sheet and barber-haulers on either side, and tried but failed to get the boat sailing off the wind to the southeast toward Bermuda, which now seemed like our best destination. The best we could do was effectively heave to, with the bow cocked toward the southwest as the boat drifted slowly southeast.
Our jury-rigged sheeting system. It worked very well
We did discuss raising the mainsail, but decided against it, as we had discovered that the top two full battens had become detached from their batt-cars when we dropped the sail earlier. There seemed to be no easy way to repair them, so we decided to wait for less wind before raising the sail again.
By 1100 hrs the wind, however, was increasing again, blowing over 30 knots I estimated, and curiously as it increased we found we had a little more luck getting the boat to sail. We first found we could sail on a close reach to the south-southwest at 4-5 knots. Later we managed to run off for a while on a broad reach to the southeast at higher speeds. Still, the boat was hard to control. It would periodically bear off or round up uncontrollably, do a spin, settle into a straight-line course for a while, do a spin, etc.
Through the afternoon the wind started diminishing again, and as it did the boat started spinning more and more. By early Monday morning, before daybreak, it was doing nothing but spinning in circles, so we rolled up the jib and decided to wait for daylight to see if we could figure out exactly what was wrong with the steering system.
Through all of this, too, we were now having to pump out the moist sections of the boat by hand. Water had been coming aboard continually in certain compartments for some time and now with no electric bilge pumps we had to attend to the chore ourselves. We weren’t sure where the water was coming from, and though the rate of ingress wasn’t at all alarming, it was annoying, as we had to pump for several minutes every one-and-a-half hours or so.
Come 0700 hrs conditions had become quite calm, with the wind from the south now at less than 10 knots, and at last we were able to embark on a deliberate examination of our problem. Inspecting all the steering gear, we found the port-side rudder stock was no longer connected to its tiller arm. Instead of being secured with a pin all the way through the stock, there was only one small set screw, the tip of which had broken off. There was, however, a hole through the stock for a proper pin, and after a long bit of head scratching, jury-rigging, and tiller-arm wrestling, we finally managed to pull the tiller arm up off the retaining ring on to which it had collapsed, line up the tiller’s hole with the rudder stock’s hole, and drive in an Allen wrench with a hammer.
The starboard side rudder stock and tiller arm, with intact connection between the two
Port-side rudder stock and tiller arm, before repairs
And after repairs. We had to remove the angle sensor and the connecting rod between the two tillers to do our thing. Afterwards, of course, we reinstalled the rod. With the tiller arm swinging back and forth in the swell with some force, this all took some care and patience
As you can imagine, we felt pretty proud of ourselves at this point and were confident we had solved our most important problem. Unfortunately, after we started up our one engine to see if we could steer, the boat still would only drive in circles, to port, no matter what we did with the wheel.
So now it was time to visually inspect the rudders to see what the hell was really going on down there. Gunther insisted he should be the one to go into the water to do this and soon reported that the starboard rudder blade was just spinning in place around its stock and that the port rudder blade was bent inward toward the boat’s centerline at a very large angle.
Gunther goes for a swim
In retrospect, it is hard to imagine how all this might have happened. I think it is likely that most cats would have suffered some sort of steering or rudder damage from the hit we took, but our damage seemed bizarre. Securing the tiller arms to the rudder stocks with small set screws may not be a good practice, but in this case those screws should have acted as sacrificial fuses. Confronted with the huge force of the wave stopping the boat and thrusting it backwards, you’d think the screws would break off, leaving the stocks to rotate freely so the rudder blades would be saved. Instead the starboard set screw held and the welds securing the frame armature inside the rudder to the stock had apparently failed. Meanwhile, the port set screw had failed, yet the frame somehow bent anyway.
Thinking we might still be able to steer the boat with its engines if we had both of them running, we next spent some time examining the port engine to see if we could get it started. This emitted a burning odor whenever we lit up the ignition, and we soon figured out that the starter had shorted out.
Unwilling to admit defeat, we thought we might have better luck sailing the boat now that we understood exactly what was wrong with the rudders. We were also now willing to raise the mainsail again in the much calmer conditions. So up went the main, and we tried every possible combination we could think of, playing the sails against each other and the bent rudder, playing the engine against the rudder in both forward and reverse, but no matter what we tried the essential dynamic remained the same: with no sails up the starboard engine ruled, and the boat just turned to port; with sails up and drawing, in whatever configuration, the bent rudder ruled and the boat would only turn to starboard.
We were now about 300 miles from anywhere, equidistant from Bermuda, the Chesapeake, and New York, and reluctantly concluded that we weren’t going to be able to get the boat to shore without outside assistance. We discussed the prospect of organizing a tow at some length and called Alpha Yachts by sat-phone to see if they could arrange something. Hank, an eternal optimist, thought this was a real possibility, but I was more skeptical. Thinking out how it might proceed, we realized that, even if we could get an appropriate vessel to come to us, it would take days before we could rendezvous. The tow would then have to proceed quite slowly, at say 3 knots at most, due to the bent rudder. Meanwhile, there would be a continuing barrage of routine winter gales, and during each of these–we figured one or two at least–the tow would have to be dropped and the boats would have to lie ahull separately, waiting for the wind and seas to subside again before proceeding onward.
Finally, after listening to us bat this around for a while, Gunther reluctantly decided the only really viable option was to abandon the boat. He placed a sat-phone call to the Coast Guard in the late afternoon, and the evacuation wheels started grinding.
We assumed, of course, that we would be taken off by an AMVER vessel, as normally happens during evacuations far from shore. Hank had the audacity to suggest that we request a westbound vessel, so that we would arrive somewhere in the U.S. rather than in Europe, and the Coast Guard, to my surprise, readily assented to this, telling us that we could have a westbound ship pick us up at 0800 hrs the following morning. They also gave us a weather forecast: the wind that night would increase to 25 knots, hold at that strength through daylight hours on Tuesday, then increase to 35 knots with gusts to over 40 during Tuesday night.
Having made our arrangements, we treated ourselves to a little pre-abandonment party shortly after sunset, broke our dry-ship rule, and opened up some fine red wine. The mood was subdued, but upbeat. Gunther and Doris, in spite of the bitter disappointment of having to give up this boat they’d been looking forward to taking possession of for two years, were very philosophical about their situation, were very grateful no lives were at stake, and together we all laughed about the problems we’d confronted during our passage.
Also, at one point in the evening, a ship came to us from the west and announced via VHF radio that they were ready to bring us aboard and take us to Israel. We politely declined, insisting we had a ride west in the morning, and they went on their way. Later it occurred to us that the Coast Guard, who had seemed more worried about Tuesday’s weather than we were, had sent this ship to us hoping to get us out of there sooner rather than later. We had arranged to maintain a sat-phone call schedule with them, but initially asked for a longer interval than they wanted–eight hours instead of four–to save our phone’s battery. It may be that if we had been in contact more regularly they might have insisted, or have strongly urged, that we join the ship bound for Israel.
In any event, during our scheduled call at 0200 hrs they informed us they would be taking us off by helicopter at 0900 hrs. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from North Carolina would rendezvous with a U.S. Navy warship en route to us to refuel, and then again on the way back. We would be allowed to bring with us one small bag each.
Promptly at 0900 hrs the next morning we spotted a USCG C-130 search plane heading straight toward us at low altitude, followed five minutes later by the helicopter. I can’t speak to how Gunther and Doris were feeling at this point, but Hank and I were both looking forward to finding out how this would go. Hank has thrashed his way through an awful lot of trouble on the water–two dismastings and five different loss-of-steering incidents–but had always managed to get his boats home and had never before abandoned one. As for me, I had once before abandoned a boat, but in much more sanguine circumstances, in a river in Spain to a nearby dock.
You’ll have seen the video the Coasties have posted. If not, you can watch right here:
Hank asked me to be the guinea pig and go first, so Gunther and Doris could see what would be happening to them. This turned out to be fortunate for me, as I got to go up in the basket, all dignified and comfortable. After that first hoist, the helo crew decided to speed things up by bringing the others up in a sling, which to me looked decidedly inferior. Hank, as skipper, originally planned to go up last, but Gunther in the end insisted that he should go last instead. That cooler you see him carrying up in the video is not filled with beer, as some have suggested, but with personal possessions. I was very surprised the Coasties let him bring it along.
Doris comes aboard
Be Good Too as viewed from the chopper
Gunther on left. Rescue swimmer John Knight on right
Really the worst part of the experience was having to sit through the three-hour long helo ride to shore in soaking wet clothes. This was broken by the fuel stop aboard the U.S. Navy missile destroyer Ross, during which someone threw a garbage bag full of beef-and-onion hoagies into the back of the chopper for us to eat. They looked disgusting, but in fact were very tasty.
Navy personnel look pretty in purple
Authentic Navy chow
On arrival at the airbase in Elizabeth City we were greeted by a swarm of people, including two Red Cross workers, who were eager to take care of us. From their perspective we must have seemed like disappointing survivors, as we were perfectly healthy, entirely untraumatized, and in generally good spirits. All we really wanted was a hot shower and some dry clothes.
Disembarking in Elizabeth City. Rescue swimmer John Knight on left, hoist operator Brian Light in the center, Gunther’s back on the right
Gunther after his shower
Like Gunther, I can honestly say it was the best shower of my life. He really is an amazing guy. Shortly after he finished his shower he got a call from someone at home in Bloomington, Indiana, telling him the water pipes in his house had frozen and burst. And both he and Doris were just as chilled out about that as they were about losing the boat.
SPECIAL THANKS: Words cannot express how grateful we are to our helicopter flight crew. At a minimum, we can recognize them individually:
Lt. David Birky–pilot
Lt. John Poley–pilot
AST2 John Knight–aviation survival technician, 2nd class; rescue swimmer
AMT2 Brian Light–aviation maintenance technician, 2nd class; hoist operator
Thanks, guys! You were great!
Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 16, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
The photo could be sharper, but I like it for two reasons. First, it’s confirmation that an ambitious product, which doesn’t even have a manual yet, actually works in the field. Second, it’s doing interesting work on an intriguing new vessel that has deep Panbot roots. You’ll learn much more about the boat on February 4th when we celebrate Panbo’s 10th birthday, but today, please say hello to the Victron Color Control GX…
While the Victron Color Control GX may look like just a particularly nice power data display, it is, in fact, a tiny Linux PC with a whole lot of connectivity and a very low power draw. The diagram above, which you’ll find in this datasheet PDF, only shows some of the possibilities. Either one of the “VE.Can” ports, for instance, can connect to a NMEA 2000 network with just an adaptor cable.
By the same token, these screens are just a small selection of what’s possible. And to fully appreciate the “overview” power flow graphics check out the Victron blog video that shows the animations. As you learn about the Color Control, you’ll realize that it is designed as much for terrestial solar panel installations as for boats, but I suspect that also accounts for its 500 euro retail price (about $680 U.S.) and check out all the boat specific future items — like tank monitoring and integration with electric drives — in this blog entry by Victron principal Matthijs Vader (who called me from Holland recently).
Understanding how the Color Control will eventually monitor tanks requires a side trip into Victron’s NMEA 2000 strategy. For the most detail, check out the data communications piece at Victron white papers. The essence is that even the other two VE protocols supported by the Color Control, VE Direct and VE Bus, can become N2K with the help of Canbus interfaces. That’s how Victron integrates with Raymarine and EmpirBus in the diagram above, and also a way I could get the Victron gear on Gizmo talking to both my display network and to the Color Control.
There’s a good reason to want the Control Control even if I had, say, my charger/inverter info showing on existing displays, and that’s VRM.victronenergy (Victron Remote Monitoring). The Ethernet port (and eventual WiFi) on the GX is there so that it can connect to the Internet when possible, where it will supply a free private site keeping track of your info. You can see demo Color Control installations there now, and obviously, more data is coming as the little PC learns to read tank, GPS and other feeds.
Victron even hopes to make the Color Control open source so other developers can use it, and Matthijs has apparently already contacted the BoatLogger folks about integrating with their project. He also told me that eventually the device will be able to serve live and historic data, just like the web site does even when a boat is not online. And of course, there is already a mobile app. It’s all a bit unfinished at this point, but do you see the bright future I do?
There’s something a little surreal about the approach into Thailand’s Phang Nga bay, a crowded archipelago of limestone islands tucked up to the northeast of Phuket. Sailing among the sharply peaked rocks is like finding yourself in the middle of the set for an epic high fantasy film. The topography is just a little to fantastic, a little too whimsical to be real.
Dozens of these islands, called hongs (rooms) in Thai, shoot up over 1,000 feet, dotting the milky green water in a shallow bay that’s only about 150 square miles total. Even more curious, they’re famously riddled with caves. Not just garden variety hole-in-the-mountainside caves, but large caverns that are open to the sky, surrounded by vertical walls, yet entered with relatively small tunnels from the water when the tide is low enough to make the entrance accessible.
Unfortunately, the area has a reputation for brazen theft. When a dinghy leaves the mothership to explore a hong, it’s unllikely they’ll be back for at least an hour and probably more- a wide window of opportunity. We met a cruising boat in Malaysia that had hoped to skirt this by carefully locking up, but that just left them with more damage to fix since thieves forced their way in regardless. We simply decided not to leave the boat unattended, since a physical presence on board seemed to be the sure deterrent.Since we can fit up to three people (barely!) in our trusty old kayak, Jamie and I alternated paddling jaunts around the hongs, leaving one of us and a kid or two always behind on the boat keeping watch from the cockpit. Even before getting into the caves, the islands themselves are stunning. Years of water leaching minerals as it runs thorugh the porous limestone leave ribbons of color along many of the cliffs. Others are vibrant hues of ochre and red, with nesting birds tucked into impossibly small nooks on the rock face.
Dinghies are a bad choice, partly because of the razor sharp rocks, partly because of the exhaust inside a hong impacting the fragile bird and plant life, partly because of the disruptive outboard noise.
Not all the caves came equipped with skylights, and I have to admit: I did not get far within the caves that descended into darkness. While rooms farther in may open above, there are tunnels that my personal spelunking chutzpah just isn’t quite ready to challenge. Even without going deep in these caves, the forms could be tremendous. Frozen waterfalls of sparkling rock- quartz?- grab the light from within.
It all adds to the sci-fi fantasy film atmosphere: just a little too strange to be real. In some, we inadvertently awaken and disrupt colonies of bats. In others, the open ‘ceiling’ creates lush green walls as the jungle outside claws a toehold within.
While the girls and I poked around in this cave above, a local boat we’d spotted around the corner zipped around to visit Totem. They’re called ‘longtails’, for the long propeller shafts extending behind the boat.
Were they looking to see if the boat was unattended? Maybe, but it could be because they hoped someone would be on board. An older couple on board offered these crab and mantis shrimp for sale, sloshing seawater into the bilge to keep the critters somewhat refreshed. Jamie scored dinner, and I felt guilty for wondering if they’d been scoping with more malicious intent.
Thanks to friends on sv Watermusick, we have waypoints to find the hongs that aren’t on the tourist route. It’s a relief to have options after visiting one heavily trafficked hong: powerboats crammed with day trippers roar up, disgorging tourists on kayaks out the back. A voice on the loudspeaker calls out: “Thirty minutes!” They get thirty minutes, then dash off to the next must-see spot on the itinerary.
Looking out from inside the hong
Apparently not allowed to paddle themselves, each inflatable is manned by a Thai guide who escorts his charges through a lagoon created by a collapsed hong pausing between selfies or gasp at the circling sea eagles.With the luxury of time, we wait until the last boats disappear, then return on our own to soak up the view in relative peace.
As the sun goes down and the moon rises, we kick back in the cockpit and process the incredible landscape. There are places where I pinch myself: how did I get so lucky, to be here with my family, to explore on our own terms? Some days, the wanderlust wins out over the sailor, and these days are among them.—- If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’re the kind of savvy person who knows The Man With The Golden Gun is obligatory viewing for any visitors to Phang Nga.
This is an accidental post this morning after reading a comment on the last post about Stanley Paris. I started writing a reply to it, and decided the comment and the reply would make a good post on their own, so here goes. We get into the philosophical nature of sailing and cruising and going after records, so some of this doesn’t apply to Dr. Paris at all. And know from the start that I admire what he set out to do, and I admire his difficult decision to quit. Only he knows how that feels, the rest of us are just yapping. So first, the comment, from someone called Jesse:
“I believe this was likely a case of too much boat, too many systems and things to go wrong for a singlehanding man of a certain age especially, making it fairly unlikely to succeed from the start. It’s all well and good to go after records in sailing. Still, it seems important to not lose sight of safety in the march to more and more speed, nor the importance of keeping it simple.
How much better might it have been to have simply built a boat strong enough to sail around the world comfortably, and be able to stop and enjoy the people and places along the way. I don’t understand at all, this drive to race upon the waters of the earth faster and faster without ever once stopping to experience all the places that a curcumnavigation entails you passing. Sailing is joyful. Endurance records are exhausting attempts at illusory goals, almost always to be broken by someone else. Enjoy Capetown Dr. Paris. The NY Times just made it their go to destination of 2014. And perhaps consider the premature end to your quixotic quest, to have been not a failure at all, instead rather a blessing in disguise.”
And now for my thoughts…
Great comment by Jesse, but there is another, more spiritual side to it. Endurance goals are indeed exhausting and illusory, but therein lies the point. They are transformational, something you can’t understand until you’ve pushed your own limits of body and mind and see what happens. After running a marathon or competing in a long-distance triathlon, you’re changed, in a subtle way, and you yearn for more. If you do enough of those challenges, you end up needing something like a nonstop circumnavigation to satiate that desire. And it IS pointless, but it’s still there. It’s like a drug.
“You get to the top of a wall, there’s nothing up there. Lionel Terray, the great French climber called it ‘The conquistadors of the useless.’ Yeah, the end result is absolutely useless, but every time I travel, I learn something new and hopefully I get to be a better person.”
So for that reason alone, I applaud Dr. Paris for making the attempt in the first place. Perhaps all he wanted to see out there was the changes he himself would undergo along the way.
Now, Jesse makes a good point about simplicity and how Paris went about it was decidedly NOT simple. Another Chouinard quote about Everest (which you could compare to Paris’ trip):
“Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEO’s, they pay $80,000 and have sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”
I don’t think Paris is an asshole, of course (maybe he is, I never met the man!), but it’s a good look at the difference between a trip like Matt’s, and a trip like Paris’. Matt set out on a simple, spiritual journey and ‘accidentally’ set a record. Paris’ goal all along was the records themselves. Perhaps that simple difference in attitude is what let the former succeed while it undid the latter..
I opened my email this morning and found the unwelcome subject line: “Not liking the look of weather toward the end of this week.” I put my head down on the table. Erik had sent me the note from a land far away; apparently not even being up to his eyeballs in work could keep him from checking on the weather. Sadly, when we “don´t like the look of the weather” around here, it doesn´t mean a little rain is going to ruin our picnic. It doesn´t mean it will be too windy to hang out laundry. It means something bad might be coming. And something bad at this time of year means a cyclone.
Hmm. Kind of gusty, a couple of days of 20 kt winds, heavy rain – nothing too terrible. But I know perfectly well that I made this stop number one because I knew I wouldn´t have to believe a single thing I saw. The local forecast is strangely inaccurate and incomplete. This was a brief attempt to reassure myself that nothing was going to happen. But I know better. Cyclone Ian just flattened Tonga. Thinking it can´t happen here a few days later is only a foolish wish.
Moving on to a source I have more faith in: Passage Weather. Let´s look at the isobars today.
New Caledonia is that island that looks like a finger pointing to the NW. And this is a happy set of isobars. Nothing closed, nothing low. Everyone is happy. I started to hope that Erik was overreacting a bit. So I clicked ahead through the week.
You can´t hear it, but I am sighing heavily. This might turn out to be nothing worse than a heavy rainstorm, but then again, it might not. Five days is a lot of time for things to change, for systems to strengthen or fall apart. It is time to start working our three-page cyclone prep list (now in handy Excel format). Wish me luck, denizens of the interwebs. I hope to report back soon that all of my preparations were for nothing.
But first, I´d better do a last load of laundry before it all blows away.
Photo courtesy Billy Black
Okay, well chalk this one up as an embarrassing journalistic mistake on my part – as Patrick Shaughnessy points out in an email to me this morning (and as several commenters here noted), I should have gotten in touch with him first. My post last night was strictly reactionary, and in hindsight probably could have used a bit of ‘thinking before speaking’ (though it still conveys my gut reaction, which I stand by). At any rate, consider this a public apology. There might be a reason my friend Rodney Carroll calls me ‘Ready, Fire, Aim Andy’. As Patrick points out, ‘we can all do better next time.’
I also spoke with Offshore Spars, who had a little bit more info, which I’ll post when I organize it. For now I can say that they know the boat definitely crash gybed at least once. it’s unclear if the preventer was rigged, but they were definitely onboard, setup to go from the end of the boom to the bow, pretty standard.
Anyway, here’s Patrick from Farr:
“Your negative commentary on the Kiwi Spirit retirement is over sensationalized and unnecessary. In response to your comments I would offer the following;
I made no comment on the chainplate design. The design of the chainplate is of itself perfectly suited to the task. I did comment on Dr Paris’ jury rigged repair to the storm jib stay’s pin retaining system which was attempted after the pin’s retaining nut was lost. The jury rigged repair, was on what was soon to be a key sail in the Southern Ocean and was inadequate. [Note: see the photos of this repair, made with a C-clamp on Kiwi Spirit's Facebook Page.]
I did not, and cannot comment on the sheave box failure in the boom end. I did comment on the jury rigged solution for the mainsheet and reefing system, both of which I felt were inadequate for potentially dangerous conditions in the Southern Ocean. Note that the mainsail itself had already been compromised after several battens were broken and replaced with fishing rods. In addition to the high likelihood of chafe related failure in the jury rigged boom end solution, there looked to be a an undesirable leech loading scenario on the mainsail itself which may have then lead to further batten failures.
The point of my recommendation to abandon the attempt was to avoid sailing unprepared into dangerous conditions. Dr Paris’ decision to abandon his record attempt should be applauded rather than mocked. He was brave enough to make a good decision which seems increasingly rare these days. When someone ventures unprepared into a dangerous situation they put their own life at risk as well as those who will be brave enough to attempt their rescue.
In any case, none of the failures were design failures attributed to Farr Yacht Design, so your comment to that effect is misplaced and should be retracted.
If you wanted to make something constructive out of the situation you would instead focus on how good decision making can avoid potential disasters.”
Thanks to Patrick for replying to my email. I will now insert my foot into my mouth.
I do however need to clear up that I was not mocking Paris’ decision to abandon. In fact, I think it was the right one, and a difficult one at that. What I thought was ‘ridiculous’ was the notion that the boat wasn’t up to snuff, when it was purpose-built and designed for the trip. There still remains to be seen an explanation for the failures, but I appreciate the response from Farr.
Written by Ben Ellison on Jan 13, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
I find Steve Dashew’s latest FPB 78 long-range powerboat design so intriguing that I won’t link to it until the end of this entry for fear of losing you! The relevant detail in the rendering above is Steve’s plan to occasionally use that giant 65-inch 4K resolution TV monitor so he can still see his radar and Maretron N2KView monitoring info as he moves about the vessel’s giant main cabin while underway. I got to spend time with the Dashews on their original FPB Windhorse, and it’s one heck of an equipment endorsement to be chosen for the next one. I also know that Steve’s expert evaluation of Maretron’s hardware and software systems came before the major and excellent-sounding N2KView product changes I’m about to outline…
On January 1st Maretron N2KView changed from modularized PC software that could cost nearly $3,000 for the works — monitoring plus device control, fuel management, sophisticated alerting and video integration — to a $995 package with all modules included, plus a new BNWAS feature (Bridge Navigation Watch Alarm System). Before Jan. 1st, running the N2KView Mobile app on or off your boat required another license, if you wanted the PC version running at the same time. Now it’s free. And that, as they say, is not all…
Maretron also replaced all three of its dedicated N2KView PCs with hardware that’s more reliable and arguably less expensive. Yes, the MBB200C black box is pricier than its predecessor, but it includes the entire N2KView software suite, and it can work with two independent or redundant NMEA 2000 networks through two CAN ports (and adaptor cables). The major change, though, is that it works directly with N2k at all…
The original N2KView architecture — seen on the right side of the diagram collage above — was to have the PCs connected to a boat’s NMEA 2000 network via Maretron’s IPG100 Ethernet/IP gateway and the vessel’s router/switch. That has caused problems that didn’t have anything to do with N2KView or all the N2K devices it can monitor and control. Apparently, it’s gotten to the point where the first question asked of a customer calling in with an N2KView PC that suddenly doesn’t work is something like, “Have you or anyone else added or changed an Ethernet system that’s attached to your boat’s router?”
The new N2KView system architecture keeps the dedicated PCs inside the N2K network(s), immune to DNS problems and other issues that can mess up an Ethernet network…
So, redesigned hardware like the new TSM800C and TSM1330C touchscreen N2KView displays are more like dedicated marine MFDs than ever. Yes, there’s Windows running inside and your monitoring can still connect to the Internet through an IPG100 and router, but it’s no longer dependent on that connection to operate properly.
The screens above describe N2KView’s new Bridge Navigation Watch Alarm System (BNWAS) feature. It’s something like an elaborate snooze alarm that watch standers can’t turn off and that escalates to more “buzzers” the longer it’s left unattended. But, in fact, Maretron implemented it to commercial marine specs and boats that already have N2KView and one or more ALM100 NMEA 2000 network “buzzers” can now have BNWAS with just a free software update.
Unfortunately, BNWAS is not designed to work with N2KView Mobile, but it seems that any boat with a NMEA 2000 network and an IPG100 can enjoy many other benefits of N2KView on their Android or Apple mobile screens without further expense. Note that the integrated video also requires a dedicated N2KView PC (which have Ethernet ports just for IP cameras), but I think that “free” N2KView is great news for boats around the size of Gizmo (and owners who are cheapskates like myself ;-).
I’m already quite pleased with lower level Maretron monitoring and control devices that I’ve installed, like engine block temperature monitoring and circuit switching. N2KView running on phones or tablets won’t be essential but might be some delicious icing on the cake. Now, how about a look at how Steve Dashew used Maretron gear on Windhorse and his incredible visualizations of the FPB 78 Dream Machine.
After arriving in Phuket in early December, easy access to drinkable water evaporated at the same time as the monsoon switched to the dri season.We couldn’t get potable water once we arrived in Phuket in early December, so we’ve had to haul it from shore. Twenty liter bottles weigh about 40 pounds each and are awkwardly shaped. Sometimes we could get them delivered to the beach. Sometimes Jamie and I would take a bottle each and carry it from a vendor. The tops don’t seal, so the only way to carry was hugging it right-side up. Try carrying forty pounds of slippery round plastic for even a short distance. Not fun. Thanks to the lids, there’s a bonus wet t-shirt contest long before the dinghy is in sight. Well, it keeps things cool anyway! But it’s not fun, and I’m very, very happy to be trickling sweet water back into the tanks again.sapphire water at the doldrums on our Pacific crossing
Despite the high cost, we never really considered going without a watermaker. Five people consume a fair amount: in strict conservation mode, we can get away with as little as 8 gallons per day. More typically, we use about 15, so we can go about a week on our tankage. That’s pretty good, but it’s not enough for the kind of voyaging we do. You can’t count on rain. Sometimes, islands don’t have enough to meet their own needs, much less yours. But let’s say we did go without a watermaker: that means that about once a week, we’d be hauling about 100 gallons. Let’s review: this is not fun. That’s about twenty of those leaky Thai water bottles.Probably the scariest thing that happened on our longest Pacific passage, the 3,000nm Mexico-Marquesas run, was when our watermaker pumped briny water instead of fresh into the tanks. We hadn’t isolated them, so they were both contaminated. Between the multiple lessons learned, we had a very real reminder that this is a truly precious resource. Totem’s current watermaker is a Spectra Ventura watermaker, which Jamie installed in late 2008. With a few minor exceptions, it’s performed really well (we’re waiting to see if some of those bits that didn’t work so well will be covered under the five year warranty, since they blew up at about 4.5 years). When we’ve needed parts, however, it’s been a pain. Communication isn’t great, the parts cost a princely sum, and we have suffered an unusually high number of mis-delivered or non-delivered shipments. It’s all kinds of frustrating when you’re half a world away. Almost as frustrating as Spectra charging over $100 for a little elbow part that shouldn’t cost more than $10. After many false starts to get all the parts we needed, and about a day of installing, testing, uninstalling, fixing, and repeating from install again- we’re finally making water again- the purr of the pump and splat of brine water hitting our galley sink are sweet sounds to hear again.
—- If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, you’ve just splashed change into our cruising tanks. Thank you!
I just read news that Stanley Paris, the American sailor trying to take his custom-designed, custom-built Kiwi Spirit around the world alone in record time, has abandoned the adventure only after just getting going. The following is a brief report culled from various internet sites about the reasons behind the abandonment, and then a little bit of opinion on why I think the whole thing was silly in the first place…
Here’s what he wrote in his blog:
“And so I have decided to abandon and head for Cape Town, some 1,700 miles away. To continue in the face of the sage advice above would be foolish in the extreme, and cruel to my wife, family and friends. I must now abandon this dream.”
Paris squashes the notion of trying again almost immediately, writing, “There will be no second attempt. It will be a full year before I could start again and I have asked enough of my wife and family already. The boat will be shipped from Cape Town to Maine, restored with the lessons learned, and be the fast family cruiser for which she was intended.”
He finished the days depressing entry thanking his supporters, and getting back to business on board. “Now, some eight days to Cape Town,” he wrote.
That sage advice was regarding some failures that the boat suffered in the past week or so, and was offered by none other than the president of boat design at Farr Yacht Design, who designed the boat, and Cabot Lyman, the owner of the yard Lyman Morse where the boat was built.
Paris opened his blog entry announcing his abandonment by sharing that advice. The guy from Farr goes so far as to say that he recognized that ‘the design of the rigging attachments to the boat was not suitable for ocean sailing.’ (WTF!?!?!? – that’s my comment by the way. More on this in a minute).
Paris is still only in the Atlantic, and hasn’t even officially crossed an ocean yet (though he’s been at sea for over a month), so I feel for him. It’s a bummer.
It’s not clear what actually happened to the boat, but apparently the end of the boom failed, resulting in Paris having to jury rig a mainsheet system and reefing system (this after he suffered a pretty serious back injury last week). One of the headsails blew out previously, and the guys at Farr fear the mainsail could be compromised, which in turn could compromise the rig itself (!).
So that’s that, and Paris is headed to Cape Town.
Before I get too critical about the whole thing, some points to make to fend off the inevitable backlash:
1. I envy Paris and the fact that he’s able to even attempt such a record. He’s out there doing it – I’m just sitting here commenting from the couch. I hope I’m still sailing at his age, and on such a cool boat.
2. Anytime you start going after records and doing things nobody has done before, stuff is going to happen that you didn’t plan on. It’s pushing the envelope for everybody – his lessons in this might trickle down to all of us someday.
3. Paris must have known he’d be giving up some safety and robustness in the boat in order to go for the speed record around alone. Racers balance this risk constantly – where’s that knife edge?
Now, that said, the thing that stands out most in all of this is Farr’s admission that the chainplate design ‘was not adequate for ocean sailing’. As one comment on Paris’ blog noted, where the hell was he during the design phase!? And how the hell could such a major priority in the design of an obviously ocean-going boat be overlooked? If I were Paris, I’d be pretty darn pissed off about this. And if it turns out the other failures were design-related, I’d be REALLY pissed off. But then, I’m sure he was involved deeply in the design process (or should have been – to me, that’d be half the fun, getting to design your dream boat!). So maybe he’s partially to blame.
But the chainplate thing…what’s wrong with some basic stainless or titanium, through-bolted chainplates. They work, they’re proven. Why try to reinvent the wheel? Same with the boom-end and reefing system – none of those items are going to make the boat sail faster, so why not spec something bulletproof in the first place?
When I read this I immediately thought of Matt Rutherford and his Around the America’s trip. I might be a bit biased in Matt’s case, knowing him as a friend and being involved a bit in his projects now, but still – that was damned impressive, and he did the whole thing on his own! He had nobody designing a boat for him, nobody building a boat for him, and no money. He scavenged plywood out of a dumpster to reinforce the deck beam under the mast step on the deck stepped mast. It never failed in 27,000 miles!
Neither did Matt’s power system require the constant attention that Paris’ needs. Matt used a bit of fossil fuels, but once his engine gave up the ghost int he S. Atlantic, he could’t even charged his batteries. But he was never without running lights or the necessities he needed to get home.
Matt, by the way, is quietly preparing to set out on his next big adventure. WD Schock is currently building Matt and Nicole a 29-footer that they’ll sail nonstop across the Pacific from California to Japan to study plastics in the Pacific. I have no doubt that he’ll succeed, though it will be with much smaller fanfare I’m sure. More on that story later…