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Semi live blogging the Miami shows, backwards

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-02-13 10:45

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 13, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Garmin integrates with Mastervolt CZone digital power

I think they overhyped the innovation but this is great news for distributed power and digital switching in general, and the Garmin 8000 series in particular. It’s also a huge win for Mastervolt CZone.

Northstar modular thin plate 8D battery

West Marine picked this modular Northstar thin plate 8D battery as one of its products-of-the-year.

Panbo Wins Again

The iPad blogging has some problems but I’m a happy guy. Boating Writers International just awarded Panbo #1 in Online Excellence — third time in four years! — and also gave me #1 in Electronics for the article “True Test” published in PMY.

Simrad announces ForwardScan

Simrad ForwardScan will image a 10 degree slice from directly below your boat up almost to the water surface ahead, it won’t be very expensive, and of course it will integrate with NSS and NSO evo2 (at least). Let the wider sonar wars begin!

FLIR Partner’s Cruise — all in

It was seriously weathery in south Florida last night but the First FLIR Partner’s Cruise was nonetheless an important moment in marine electronics. With the addition of Garmin — comment link to press release appreciated — Flir cameras are now supported by the entire Big Four plus the likes of Nobeltec and GOST.

Let the Shows begin!

Live blogging experiment

Time for an experiment! At some boat shows I’ve tried using Twitter and even Instagram to post short reports and photos of electronics news because writing full blog entries just doesn’t fit with the pace. But there were serious drawbacks, mainly that I couldn’t cap them off at the end of the show. So if you looked a few months later, you’d see my irrelevant current Tweets along with your comments about show news.

But now I have a neat Canon S120 camera with built-in WiFi and a powerful iPad blogging app called Blogsy. I think I will be able to update this entry fairly easily. And I plan to do it backwards, adding new stuff to the top. The only drawback I can think of is that the feeds going to PMY, SailFeed, and PassageMaker will probably not update until I have time to do it manually. So if you’re reading there, come on over to Panbo.

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Offshore on Sojourner: Outfitting in St. Lucia

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-02-12 16:38

Dad, Marcia and I got into St. Lucia yesterday around 5pm. First time we’ve been on the boat since just after Christmas. We came back to a little bit of of mold, but for the most part it was at we left it.

I spent the day getting the rigging inspected, stitching a small tear in the Solent jib, getting the dinghy lashed down and provisioning. Our crew Daniel showed up about an hour ago. Overall, I’ve never felt more ready for an offshore trip. Goes to show how nice it is to have have the boat so ready to to in the fall. THAT was tons of work – but now it’s paying dividends. All the safety gear is set up and ready to go, so now it’s just about executing.

I’m sending this blog post in via email to test our sat phone system. If it works okay, I’ll be posting here regularly with our position for the sake of our crews friends and family. We expect to take 2-3 days to get to St Croix, leaving St Lucia tomorrow morning, then it’ll be off to the Bahamas after a short layover and crew change. Follow our progress here, and leave your comments!

Cheers, Andy

Iridium’s GO! satellite WiFi and Globalstar’s mysterious SatFi

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 12, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Wow! With a bounty of significant cruising electronics news on my desk, the new Iridium GO! may rank #1. Think of it as the Iridium Extreme — arguably the most versatile, rugged, and expensive sat phone available — with the phone interface replaced by a WiFi radio able to handle five smartphones or tablets. The GO can install semi-permanently with an external antenna, or sit on deck while you make a quiet call below, or go in your pack when you hike in Tierra del Fuego. You’ll still be able to make and take phone calls anywhere, but they will be easier, less expensive, and purportedly better sounding. Plus there’s global email, tracking, and so much more…

My review of the Extreme and its AxcessPoint WiFi accessory in 2012 was somewhat lukewarm. It wasn’t the service so much as the complicated jumble of components, cables, and chargers involved, plus a phone interface that seemed clunky in this iPhone/Android age. But I wasn’t smart enough to visualize how it could all be simplified into the 4.5 by 3.25 inch GO with benefits added (and I doubt that Iridium’s competition was either, as explained below).

The key to GO is that you use your own phone or tablet (or PC eventually) to access the full speed Iridium 9523 modem that’s normally in their sat phone. It’s “like having your own global cell tower” Iridium likes to say. It’s also something like Google Voice which let’s me make voice calls and texts whlle roaming foreign cell lands just by finding a WiFi Internet connection and tapping a setting on my Android phone.

But that analogy is only half true because even a dicey WiFi hotspot has a lot more bandwidth than a full speed Iridium circuit switching modem. So GO users can not just use their phone’s normal software for email, calls, or anything else. Special apps must be developed to bridge cell/wifi broadband expectations with Iridium narrow-band realities…

But before discussing all the app possibilities, known and unknown, note the water-protected ports on the GO. The ubiquitous mini USB is used to charge the device’s Lithium battery — a nice change from prior Iridium charge systems — and possibly for firmware updates. The red button, also protected from accidental finger pushes, is of course a quick way to send a distress alert. Since GO has internal GPS it can be left on to provide tracking, be ready for an emergency, and/or keep an ear out for incoming messages.

If all that sounds like a DeLorme inReach, well, it is, except that the inReach’s SBD (short burst data) modem can’t also handle calls, slim email, weather files and even limited Web browsing. In fact DeLorme is listed as one of partners developing apps and extra services for the GO in Iridium’s press release and I hope to wheetle some detail out of them here in Miami. OCENS weather too.

So no surprise that the Iridium GO app that will be available when the device ships in a few months looks similar to the Earhmate apps for the inReach (except without all the mapping DeLorme throws in). Settings, tracking, messaging, and a second way to call for distress (with two-way texting) are all there. This app is also where you make satellite phone calls, apparently with access to your regular contact list. Tim Johnson, Iridium’s Director of Mobile Business, told me that attendees at last week’s Partner’s Conference were smiling about how their smartphone audio technology improved the quality of calls over the Iridium network.

There will also be an Iridium Mail & Web app that works with the GO, and I was glad to learn that it is a version of the software that Luis Soltero of Global Marine Networks developed for the Iridium AccessPoint. That means offline email editing, batch transmissions with compression, filtering of large attachments and many other nuances that are critical to narrowband communictions. Soltero has been testing a GO and terms it “all in all a sexy product priced very reasonably with a growing community of mobile apps.”

So what about the costs? Iridium won’t put hard numbers on anything because they don’t sell direct, but Tim Johnson expects the GO hardware to retail at $800 to $900 and he confirmed Soltero’s news that GO will get special low-priced service plans, like “$130 to $150″ per month for unlimited data. I asked Johnson to repeat that, as it sounds ideal for certain cruising situations, especially if available in “seasonal” increments. DeLorme’s new “Freedom Plan” makes me hopeful, but we’ll have to wait.

Iridium is marketing GO as an improvement on the Thuraya SatSleeve  design and even created a Go! to SatSleeve comparison PDF. There’s not much comparison, in my view, except maybe that the SatSleeve is slightly more portable. What seems odd, though, is that Iridium left out the new Globalstar SatFi. But maybe not so odd as it seems quite possible — no photos, no specs, no rumors — that Globalstar heard about GO and just pulled SatFi out of a hat, or somewhere. Heck, I’ve even seen email showing that people working at Globalstar didn’t know about SatFi before its late January announcement. And if it is vaporware, it worked at least a bit as when Engadget’s GO coverage begins with “Globalstar’s Sat-Fi won’t be the only game in town for satellite hotspots.”

I think that Globalstar did a great thing for boaters with their SPOT tracker messengers, and I hear that the phone/data service is getting better. I also think that it would be great to have competition over this new satellite WiFi hotspot platform. But a vauge just-started product that may not be real until November (according to a knowledgable sounding investor) seems like poor sportsmanship and possibly confusing to consumers.

I can close with something much more positive. I’d hoped that a company like Raymarine might use the Bluetooth in their MFDs to integrate with the DeLorme inReach. Wouldn’t it be neat to get important message notifications on your bright, waterproof nav screen and be able to type a reply? Not to mention distress communications, weather alerts, etc. But actually the new Iridium GO with its greater data capacity and more common WiFi interface makes more sense. For instance, how hard would it be for Furuno to make the NavNet TZT weather via WiFi feature to work directly through GO if Iridium cooperates? Tim Johnson’s answer to my query about such possibilities was “absolutely yes!” 

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Listen up: your boat is talking to you

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-02-12 13:00

It was not one of our sunnier mornings.

Oh, the sun was up and blazing, but the utter lack of sleep the night before- when Totem sat beam onto a swell rolling in over a long stretch of the Indian Ocean- left us feeling a little dim.

Help was surely on the way, I thought, catching a whiff of propane as Jamie turned on the stove to make coffee. I turned a bleary eye and rolled over, and a few minutes later, caught the same odor again. This time it didn’t feel right, and snapped me to a consciousness. Any hint of propane only comes with lighting the stove, and it doesn’t stick around. Worse, this wasn’t really smelling like propane, and the stove wasn’t even on.

I poked up into the cockpit to tell Jamie, who came down to see if he could pick up the smell too. On instinct, he opened up access to the engine room, and found an immediate answer. Water was spraying everywhere! The smell was suddenly intense, and obvious: as water fell on and around the engine, oils inside the compartment were lifted in the steam and carried into the cabin.

The source was a ruptured hose to the tap for the galley sink, which sits on top of the engine. A brand new faucet assembly was installed just a few months ago, ironically enough because we worried about a catastrophic failure of the old tap it replaced.

The initial fix: easy. Turn off the water pressure pump, and the flows tops with the flick of a switch.
The bigger issue is that in the precious few minutes that it took us to identify the problem, our starboard water tank was effectively drained. We have a second tank, and it was isolated (as it should be, but realistically, it isn’t always), so we weren’t entirely SOL- but that was still sixty gallons of water gone that would take us up to twelve hours of runtime (and a lot of power) for our watermaker to replace. Ouch.

The more complete fix: this, it turns out, will take a little longer. The break happened on the way to Chalong, a busy anchorage at the south end of Phuket, with a bustling little town. The best supplied hardware store in the area (which honestly made me feel like Dorothy clicking my heels together three times and transported back in the middle of Home Depot) said it would take at least two weeks for delivery to source the part that would match the somewhat unique (who knew?!) fitting on our blown out hose.

That’s not really an option, because our Thai visas expire in just a few days. It suddenly becomes very obvious that we have exactly one source of water available via the footpump, and using that pump (and the awkward mini-tap) is an unfortunate way to handle all our freshwater needs for drinking, dishes, and bathing.

Fortunately, Jamie is Mr McGuyver, so we have a jury rig that lets us put the freshwater system back on line and even use the galley sink until we can get a replacement hose. It should be easy to do in Langkawi, since that’s where the faucet was purchased back in November.

What a reminder to pay attention to your boat: to listen, to be alert to anything that might feel different than the norm. Your boat is talking to you all the time, and sometimes it’s pretty important to listen closely! All for a smell that struck a little differently. For power that felt slightly different relative to the RPMs.

What if this had happened in the middle of the ocean? What if it were coupled with watermaker issues and those sixty gallons were eve more precious than their power cost? What if this had happened where we couldn’t get the bits for a temporary fix, much less a permanent one? This is the third time we’ve had a significant failure that caused us to lose our water.

So we go back to more important things, like interpreting the menu in Thai restaurants. Completely perplexing but it’s really a no-lose situation, since everything is delicious (disclaimer: I did not try Pound Salted).



Readers feeling especially parched can get watered up by reading this on the Sailfeed website.

Group Think: a Rough Rally Passage and the Questions it Inspired

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-02-12 10:42

It’s old news by now that back in early November, a half-dozen boats entered in the Salty Dawg Rally from Hampton, Virginia to the British Virgin Islands got into all sorts of trouble in the Gulf Stream. A couple were abandoned, and others were dismasted or had steering problems. I remember that night vividly (though certainly not as vividly as those who suffered through it), because while the proverbial stuff was hitting the fan a few hundred miles south, I was sitting in a multiplex watching a lethargic Robert Redford trying to save his damaged boat in the movie All is Lost. Life imitating art?

I don’t know all the facts surrounding the dramas in the Stream that night, and I have always tried not to spend too much time second-guessing other sailors’ decisions. Even on drama-free passages, there is always something you would have done better or differently, given the benefit of hindsight.

There is nothing unusual or new about boats being lost or damaged on this notoriously fickle stretch of water at that time of year; I’ve crewed on a half-dozen late-October deliveries from New England to Bermuda, and received a royal Gulf Stream spanking in 45-50 knot winds on two of those, so I know the odds of a slow-moving sailboat being overtaken by a fast-moving weather system are depressingly high. Scarcely a year goes by without someone getting into serious trouble out there, and the only thing different about last November was the number of boats that got into serious trouble at the same time.

There were two rallies—the Salty Dawg and the Caribbean 1500—whose boats were en route from Virginia to the
Caribbean that first week in November. The C1500 organizers, with their European risk-management-style insistence on strict safety protocols, started their rally a day early, on their weather router’s advice, to beat the two fronts bearing down on the Chesapeake. The Salty Dawg people, whose rally was founded in response to the rigid safety requirements of the C1500, take a laissez-faire approach that places the onus for preparation and decision-making on the individual skippers. Rightly so, you may say, and I would usually be the first to agree, as the ultimate responsibility for a boat’s safety rests squarely on the shoulders of its captain.

But of all the reasons to join a flock of other boats in an organized bluewater rally, surely the notion of safety is one of the strongest. I suspect that the passage that lay ahead of the skippers in the Salty Dawg and the Caribbean 1500 would be the longest most of them had undertaken, and faced with the unfamiliar, there is the certainty of comfort in company and at least the illusion of safety in numbers.

The truth of course is that you are never more alone than on a howling black night with spray lashing your face and the white tops of cresting seas bearing down on you out of the murk. It is then you question your own decision-making, and ponder the state of your rig, your bilge pumps, your steering system. You might even wish you were snug in a movie theater watching a fictional sailor in a Hollywood storm.

I think I’ll start blogging again.

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-02-11 17:06

I’m not sure why I stopped blogging. I was tied into that group that paid me for my blog hits and they put pressure on me to blog frequently. I don;t care for that kind of pressure. I don’t always have something to say. As Bob Dylan once said, “I’d give anything for an original thought right now”. I still get overcome with grief over losing Spike. Can’t see that changing anytime soon. I talk to him on his Facebook page. I like that but it often gets me down. The only time I am truly happy is when I am with my granddaughter Violet or I am buried in new work.

The QUAIL project kept me occupied for a while but it is on hold now waiting for the right time for the client to build. But I did enjoy that process a lot. I worked hand in hand with Jody Culbert who does all my 3D modelling work. Jody is truly amazing. Sometimes he knows what I want before I know what I want. He work is seductive and the clients love it. Before long, or so it seems, we have a virtual photo of the finished boat.

What’s really fun  is when Jody and I share his computer screen via Skype and he works his 3D magic while I boss him around making him try all sorts of whacky ideas. He’s very patient with me. We are quite the pair. We look like we could be crusty old brothers. I’m the better looking one of course.

The thing that has been a lot of fun is Kim’s FRANCIS LEE project. The build drug out at the school due to the schools scheduling but after a while Kim put four full time pros on the job in order to get it finished and out of the shop.
Now the boat is in the water after a couple more months of finishing details at CSR Marine in Ballard. We launched the boat last week. No fanfare. Just Kim and me standing there feeling pretty darn satisfied.

I love this photo taken by my old pal Neil Rabinowitz. Two old geezers geezering. I think the fact that you can’t see our faces makes the shot more interesting. You have to finish the picture in your own mind.
The boat floats on its designed lines and has come in spot on for weight. I am very pleased that the hard work paid off. Now we just have to wait while the sails are being made by the Schatteaurs. Then we can go sailing and see exactly what we have created. Kim will have launching sheebang before that. I expect we will have 200 people there.

So, this is the end of this blog entry. I don’t even know how to spell check it. I have no idea how my images will post. This is a test.

Talk to you all soon. Bob P.

HMS BOUNTY: Final NTSB Report Released

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-02-11 15:06

The National Transportation Safety Board released its report on the infamous October 2012 loss of HMS Bounty yesterday, concluding “that the probable cause of the sinking of tall ship Bounty was the captain’s reckless decision to sail the vessel into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy, which subjected the aging vessel and the inexperienced crew to conditions from which the vessel could not recover.” No real surprise there. But on reading the report in full, I did find one bit I hadn’t expected, which is that the five-member review board also determined that the captain, Robin Walbridge, was not actually under any pressure to make the ship’s next appearance in Florida and that the ship could still have reached St. Petersburg on schedule if it had waited out the storm in Connecticut.

If you believe that, the bottom line to this disaster is that Walbridge was just a cowboy, risking his vessel and crew for no good reason at all.

I discussed the Bounty with Coast Guard personnel in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, during my recent visit there and they had a lot to say on the subject. Rescuing the ship’s crew (they recovered 14 of the 16 people aboard after the ship sank) was a major fire drill for them, requiring the deployment of one C-130 search plane and three Jayhawk helicopters at night and in truly horrendous conditions. They felt Walbridge had needlessly jeopardized their flight crews by failing to provide the Coast Guard with accurate and timely information as to the ship’s status.

You can take another glimpse of the CG rescue viddy right here:

You can also read this official Coast Guard account of the rescue, which is surprisingly hair-raising, given how dispassionate it is.

If you want to reprise the whole disaster in detail, there is now a book available, Gathering Wind: Hurricane Sandy, the Sailing Ship Bounty, and a Courageous Rescue at Sea, by Gregory A. Freeman, and also a Kindle Single, The Sinking of the Bounty: The True Story of a Tragic Shipwreck and Its Aftermath, by Matthew Shaer.

Blasts from the US Sailing Confab

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-02-10 20:30

Time to put a US Sailing decal on the car.

My rides have long flown a US Sailing logo, but somehow I never got around to adding one of those decals to the little white car. Now, coming out of the Leadership Forum in San Diego, I’m feeling so good that I have to make the add. Four days of upbeat energy. Six hundred attendees plus. A full notebook and hours of recordings in the bank.

Here’s a sampler. Full disclosure: All “quotes” are approximate.

Bill Lee on the Universal Measurement System, in development, to make it possible to get your boat measured once and then sail under any handicap system:

“You’ll only have to go to the dentist once.”

Peter Harken on the sartorial habits of the yachtsman:

“Yachting casual is a lot like yachting formal. You can look a little like a bum, or you can look a little like a bum in a blazer.”

Chief Umpire for the America’s Cup Mike Martin, on the visualization technology of Liveline:

“The only thing it couldn’t tell us about overlaps was if we had a vertical overlap, which did happen.”

Jim Clark on the J Class:

“Very soon there will be seven or eight boats racing.”

Josh Adams on developing the US Olympic Sailing Team:

“Mark Littlejohn spent days studying the bay at Rio de Janeiro, and he called [fellow coach] Luther Carpenter from the top of Sugar Loaf and told him, ‘I’m looking at flat water and light air. This is Paige Railey’s body of water.”

Rich Wilson on racing the Vendee Globe:

“In the Pacific there was a boat 1,000 miles ahead of me and a boat 1,000 miles behind me. The closest humans were the people on the Space Station.”

And, finally, from Kate Neubauer of 11th Hour Racing:

“I was trying to explain the America’s Cup to a girlfriend who has absolutely no idea. I told her that it is this thing that happens occasionally. It’s innovative and destructive to the status quo, and to the right people it’s fascinating and compelling and it just takes over. She was quiet for a while, then she brightened up and said, ‘Oh, it’s like FASHION WEEK!’ ”

Footnote: The US Sailing Leadership Forum was held in San Diego, home to a number of fine sailing institutions, including the San Diego Yacht Club, host to the upcoming Puerto Vallarta Race and worthy of a hearty salute for its present flagship, a handsome Naples Sabot. No, not this one. This was a centerpiece for the opening of the Forum. SDYC’s flagship is a fine-looking sistership owned by Sabot stalwart Chuck Sinks. Southern California has grown generations of great sailors in boats just like this. I like it.


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STANLEY PARIS: What Really Happened On Kiwi Spirit?

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-02-10 17:16

Thank goodness I was off having my own misadventure when Stanley Paris announced in his blog that he was abandoning his solo circumnavigation attempt and pulling into Cape Town. Otherwise there’s a good chance I might have stepped in it like my SAILfeed compatriot Andy Schell did when he read the news. It seems that what set Andy off was a single phrase in Paris’s announcement: “that the design of the rigging attachments to the yacht were inadequate for ocean sailing.” My reaction when I read that was pretty much WTF too.

Andy made some critical assumptions and statements based on that statement and promptly got slapped down by Patrick Shaughnessy at Farr Yacht Design, the firm that designed Paris’s boat, Kiwi Spirit. The implication in Shaughnessy’s response, as published by Andy, is that the phrase in question refers not to the original design of the “rigging attachments,” but to the design of some jury rigs created by Paris.

One big problem in trying to figure out exactly what happened on Kiwi Spirit is that Stanley Paris is not very good at blogging. From his blog we can learn little or nothing about the rigging failures he experienced and how he tried to make repairs. On his Kiwi Spirit Facebook page I did find one post put up by his shore team, on January 9, with photos they’d received of damage to Kiwi Spirit‘s staysail furling rod and the staysail stay’s deck attachment.

According to an e-mail that Paris sent Andy, this damage was caused after “a spinnaker halyard wrapped around the top of the furler at the head and the furling torque caused the separation.” According to Shaughnessy’s e-mail, the C-clamp jury-rig seen in the lower photo was necessary because the “retaining nut” for the pin securing the bottom end of the stay had been lost.

We know also from Andy’s correspondence with involved parties, and from a Florida News4Jax TV report posted on the Kiwi Spirit Facebook page, that Kiwi Spirit‘s main boom suffered major damage during an uncontrolled crash jibe. In his e-mail to Andy, Paris says the boom itself was cracked and that the “boom end pulleys” (the sheaves, presumably) for the preventer, first reef clew line, and outhaul were also damaged. He concedes he had no preventer rigged at the time, but notes he doesn’t think it would have made a difference if he had. In the News4Jax report, Paris also states that “the block that holds [the boom] to the boat” (a sheet block presumably) was broken and cracked. Shaughnessy references damage that sounds somewhat similar to this in his e-mail to Andy and further mentions that the mainsail suffered some broken battens, that these battens had been replaced with fishing rods, and there was concern going forward that the boom damage would lead to still more battens breaking.

Evidently, Paris sent photos of all relevant damage to interested parties on shore for appraisal, but so far no photos, save for those two above, have been shared publicly. (I note now that the original January 9 post containing the two staysail photos is no longer on the Kiwi Spirit Facebook timeline, though the pix themselves are still accessible.)

According to the News4Jax report, Paris fell while trying to repair the boom damage and cracked two ribs, but this may be inaccurate. (I know from my own recent experience that TV reporters aren’t always very careful with their facts when covering yachting mishaps.) According to a blog post by Paris dated January 4, what sounds like this injury occurred on January 1, as Paris was recovering “a light headwind sail” that had blown out during the night. He states that he had been scared during the night as the wind increased, and that he’d had to handsteer the boat as the sail was overpowered. After the sail tore, he says he could not take it down in the darkness, but could only watch it “self destruct” until dawn came.

It is interesting to note that Paris makes no mention of this event or of his injury in his January 2 blog post, which is a perfectly boring anodyne account of passing a ship at night.

Kiwi Spirit‘s route to Cape Town

It is also interesting to note that even as I am drafting this post, Paris, who is now back in the U.S. (he’s letting a delivery crew bring Kiwi Spirit back from Cape Town as far as the West Indies), has just made another post on his blog stating that he will now “have extensive meetings with the sail maker, designer, builder and others to determine the best course of action that will restore my confidence in the boat and its fittings.” Which implies to me that his problems with the boat may have involved more than just a couple of isolated rigging failures.

When I last blogged about Paris, my operating assumption was that all the money and expertise he had available to throw at this project pretty much guaranteed its success, barring something unforeseen happening. I mean, hell, according to the story I read in the February 2013 issue of Cruising World, Paris was going to carry “a second carbon-fiber rig that will be stowed below in several sections in the event that the first fixed one fails.”

This denotes an extremely high level of preparedness. And now we’re supposed to believe that he had to stop because of a crash jibe, a halyard wrap, a lost retaining nut, a broken block, and some busted battens?

Kiwi Spirit‘s sailplan. Paris told Cruising World magazine that Bruce Farr designed an extra rig to be stowed onboard

I’m guessing there may be more to this story than has been shared so far.

Here are a few of the questions that come to my mind:

-Were there no spare battens, retaining nuts, or boom sheaves on board? If so, why was it not possible to use them?

-I’ve noticed that Kiwi Spirit when she set out from St. Augustine had fixed furlers for her jib and staysail and a removable continuous-line furler for her inner staysail.

Earlier in her brief career she had continuous-line furlers on all her headsails.

Why was this change made? Were the sails on continuous-line furlers being carried as spares?

-When did the damage to the staysail furler and stay attachment occur? Was this related to the “light headwind sail” incident on January 1?

-Exactly what “light headwind sail” was it that blew out on January 1? Wasn’t it on a furler? Why couldn’t Paris simply roll up the sail before it was damaged?

-Was there really a whole spare rig onboard? Did that include a spare boom?

-Why was there no preventer on the boom when the boat jibed?

-Is the jibe that caused the boom damage the same as the one described in Paris’s December 26 blog post? This involved what sounds like a serious injury.

-How many times was Paris injured? Was he more badly injured than he has let on?

-Were there other problems with the boat that we haven’t been told about?

Some larger questions I have include:

-Is Paris having second thoughts about his “green voyage” goal? The whole notion of burning hydrocarbons up the wazoo to build a super-sophisticated boat, then pledging to burn none at all on a voyage around the world–while relying on gear like electronic autopilots, microwave ovens, and electric stoves–seemed a bit disingenuous in the first place. Judging from Paris’s blog posts, the green goal turned out to be both a distraction and potentially counter-productive.

-Is Paris wishing he had a smaller, simpler boat?

BOTTOM LINE: And I mean this–Dr. Paris is to be APPLAUDED for stopping when he did. I am sure, given all the preparation he and others put into this, that it was not an easy decision to make.

I do also think, however, given all the effort that was put into publicizing this project, that we are owed a more complete and coherent account of what happened.

Cruising: vacation vs lifestyle

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-02-10 12:02

Sometimes cruising really is exactly the way people with landlocked lives and snowy driveways imagine it to be. A morning of exploring a new bay, an afternoon of watching the sun climb across the sky from a hammock, and cocktails at sunset- with ample breaks for entertainment between those consuming activities.

returning to the beach from a successful mission…for a massage

We just had several weeks of cruising that modeled that ideal pretty well. OK, so possibly it was a little less glamorous (four mile walk for groceries, laundry in a bucket), but it is a slice of the cruising life and one that naturally cycles back and forth. Nearly every day involved playing on the beach. There were the incredible dives at Richelieu and very respectable ones at the Surin islands. With a very dear friend visiting from afar, excellent company for exploring, and many evenings of sundowners shared among friends, social fun was simply part of the flow.

the honorable work of waiting to see a green flash at sunset

Returning south to Phuket has meant the arrival of payback time for our languorous reprieve. It was a month away from a population center. Just a month. We weren’t in atolls or uninhabited islands or ridiculously remote, but suddenly, we have a lot of catching up to do to do. The laundry pile is threatening mutiny: it was oddly easy to ignore when the only option was a five gallon bucket, and 20 baht washing machines awaited in Phuket.

We were shockingly low on fuel, too. The dinghy is pretty much running on fumes. That won’t do! Getting jerries filled from the Chalong pier is interesting… especially at low tide. Jamie’s standing on the dinghy tubes to get this close, and the guy still had to practically drop the forty pound jerry to his reach.

Then there’s the little matter of our pre-paid SIM card running out of data. I do like my internet, even if it’s slow! More importantly, many of our basic provisions have run low. What, they want to eat? Apparently they do! Three days in Phuket = three trips to the grocery store, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be making a fourth trip tomorrow. Jamie demonstrates how sexy and fun this is, competing with the crazy local traffic for inches of pavement while lugging bags of groceries.

It’s good to be back, though. Niall’s good friend Josh is living in Phuket for much of this year while his family has their boat hauled out. We’ll head south soon and aren’t sure when we’ll see Josh and his family again, so the two boys have been making the most of their time together. Activity of choice: intense games of Axis and Allies taking over our main cabin table for most of the last two days.

Siobhan decided that since Jamie and I were “a little busy” this morning, she’d just make breakfast for everyone herself. Pancakes with a squirt of lime and powdered sugar were served in the cockpit… thanks sweetie! Sometimes, these forays away from easy access to goods and services is only a week. Sometimes it’s a month. Every now and then it’s even longer. But each time, the experience of getting back to the big smoke is relative. Relative to how little has been available in the prior window, and to the options in “town”. “Town” might not be more than a single store that’s smaller than most suburban garages- or it might be like Phuket, where we can find everything from well stocked chandlers to Italian food importers. Dipping in, dipping out, it’s a swing in the rhythm that becomes part of life.
Buddha on the mountaintop watches over boats in Chalong Bay
People who appreciate such yin yang qualities of life surely appreciate that reading this on the Sailfeed site brightens the day on Totem.

59º North Celestial Nav Workshop Wrap-Up

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-02-10 10:56

This past weekend’s nav workshop was a big success. We kicked off the weekend with a couple of Guinness and some sea stories at Galway Bay pub on Friday night, and then hit the books hard over Saturday and Sunday (with a nice dinner with Matt Rutherford at Ram’s Head Tavern on Saturday night). See some photos of the weekend below.

Thanks to all who attended – it was a great time getting to know you guys and enlightening you a little bit on the history and practice of celestial navigation. The US Sailing Hall of Fame donated the space (which was a perfect setting right on City Dock in Annapolis), and the course was supported by Bacon Sails (who loaned some sextants to practice with) and Weems & Plath, who supplied the plotting tools and a place for Andy to sleep over the weekend! We will definitely be doing another one or two of these this year, limited to 6 people (which is a perfect class size). If you’re interested in joining, contact andy@59-north.com. Next course will be in May or October. Stay tuned.

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Parts of the sextant

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Understanding Latitude & Arc

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Sun sight diagram

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Plotting Sheet Diagram

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Beautiful backdrop in the US Sailing HoF Building

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US Sailing HoF Backdrop

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Greg crunching the numbers

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View out the front window of US Sailing HoF

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s/v ‘Windalier’ outside the US Sailing HoF

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Tom hard at work

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Steve reducing a star sight

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Greg looks perplexed…

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Mike having a go

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Tony contemplating…

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Billy crunching some numbers

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Andy teaching the class

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Andy teaching the class

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Lots of course materials spread out on the table

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Great setting in the US Sailing HoF

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Practicing sun sights on the dock

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Navico writer’s event 2014: B&G, Simrad & Lowrance product highlights

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-02-10 08:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 10, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Navico did it again, even better than last time. The company gathered 24 boating writers at the Hawk’s Cay Resort along with a deep roster of Lowrance, Simrad, and B&G product experts and 9 demo boats loaded with gear. The demos very much reflected the refocused brand identities we learned about last year in Las Palmas, and in some cases the Navico team went some extra distance to make them real. Thus, I found myself not only sailing on a nearly new J111 with B&G’s long-time Race Specialist Matt Fries, but actually pinging start line buoys and later working our way to the windward mark…

My Sail magazine colleague, Charlie Doane, has covered this same demo in great detail – actually, the whole event with “Hax and Flax” hilarity — so I get to chime in with some nuances. Charlie, for instance, explains what’s happening on this amazing start line screen, including the calculated bias advantage in boat lengths to crossing at the starboard pin (which might also be viewed as the speed you’d need to make up if you decide to blast through a hole toward the port end). But I learned a couple of things about the bigger picture.
For one thing, this H5000 graphic display is probably the first to show such a sophisticated start screen, which used to be the province of high-end PC racing software like B&G’s Deckman. But while the graphic display apparently has enough processor to run the same NOS (Navico Operation System, a special flavor of Linux) as the Zeus2 MFD cleverly mounted in the J111′s companionway, it can not do the Start Screen without an H5000 CPU working in the background. On the other hand, and in keeping with B&G’s desire to attract club sailors and even cruisers, the graphic display can work fine as just an especially large, bright and fast NMEA 2000 instrument display. Hence, a production builder can easily install a graphic display and tell customers that if they get serious about racing they can simply add the CPU to get the start line screen and other advantages. Let’s also note that a Navico user can get somewhat similar racing aid from third party apps like iRegatta that can use the generous data flow emanating from a GoFree Wifi1.

Sailors should check out the SailSteer and layline overlays that Charlie was impressed with (me too) as well as Kee’s H500 overview on Panbo. But yours truly was willing to go below for a live view of the H5000 web interface in action. I failed to photograph the neat sensor calibration tables and curves it lets you make, but this picture shows how deep the data sourcing is. It’s sort of like NMEA 2000 when it’s done right and you can choose between, say, port and starboard depth transducers or even show both. But the H5000 lets you choose data before or after it’s massaged by the CPU and even apply logic like “if on starboard tack use port speedo.”
I also enjoyed hearing product manager Robert Langford-Wood describe the delight of the B&G programmers when the decision was made to manage the H5000 processor via a built-in web server instead of trying to squeeze it into even the powerful graphic display. It looks like the smart future to me, too.

It was indeed a change of pace and brand identity to almost go fishing with Lowrance’s Lucas Stewart, who is fairly famous here for his tricked-out kayak and his manly StructureScan HD transducer (we had the rods but not the time). He showed us a nice advance in sonar that unfortunately, we can’t share for several weeks, but that is indeed a competitor’s sonar product mounted on the dash of this 24-foot Yellowfin Bay Boat (with mini flybridge)

Stewart wanted to make the point that higher frequency Lowrance DownScan yields more detailed information including a deeper bottom profile than the CHIRP-assisted downscan seen on Raymarine’s Dragonfly. But I was confused, because this Dragonfly imagery didn’t seem nearly as detailed as what I saw demoed in Miami last year. But apparently, I’m going to see a new Dragonfly demo next week in Miami and the downscan/sidescan wars are cranking up to a fever pitch, which strikes me as great for everyone, with the possible exception of the manufacturers. And note the Motor Guide trolling motor on the bow with a vaguely visible hose clamp holding something to the motor.

This is SpotlightScan Sonar, Lowrance’s response to Humminbird 360 Imaging. I had just seen 360 in action a few weeks before on a lake in Alabama and had gotten how it works in conjunction with regular cruise and side imaging. You use those technologies to find the fish or the structure they like and then 360 for the stopped or slow final hunt. SpotlightScan can’t do all that 360 can with its independent mount and scanning motor, but it seems like a darned smart way to get a similar result with less cost and less hardware to go wrong.
Besides the transducer clamped to the trolling motor, there’s really just an NMEA 2000 position sensor (quite like a rudder angle sensor) you have to attach to the underside of the trolling motor foot pedal control. (Lowrance even provides instructions for how to install one in the pedal of a Minn Kota, Humminbird’s sibling company). Then the fisherman controls his own scan, either with the boat at rest or with the motor pulling the bow around. It seemed quite effective in the shallow water where we tried it, and especially intimate when Stewart spotted a fish and then homed in on it with slow prop turns.

It was also fun to blast around on a VanDutch 30 with Simrad maven Mike Fargo who first showed me the NSS in Palma, Spain. Of course the thing now is the new line of NSS Evo2 MFDs that essentially replaces both the NSS Sport and the NSE, and also the all new “Heroic” software interface that’s sort of played second fiddle to the hardware introduction…

It looks good. That “system controls” dialog box swipes down from the top of any screen and you can see how the new autopilot and audio widgets can appear there and/or in the Instrument bar at right.

I also liked how a long touch puts the magnifying glass cursor in sight above your finger, so you can place it with great precision. Window sizes are also adjustable horizontally and vertically, a nuance I liked a lot on the NSE and missed on the NSS.


I didn’t get out on the Viking 50 sportfish Tailwalker2, but I did get a peek at her new NSO evo2 system. Twin OP40 control pads manage the twin MO19-P monitors (that will soon be replaced by the 3X brighter touchscreen models that are about to ship). NSO is also running the new interface, and this dual-processor black box system figures largely in Simrad’s ambition to “crush” the megayacht electronics market and make a big splash on the commercial marine scene. But that’s a story for another day, probably after Miami, where Navico will be generating new stories.  As much as I learned while boating around Duck Key — somehow home of Hawk’s Cay, and shown with my trusty inReach SE 10 minute satellite tracking below — I may have learned more from the Navico presentations and some solid face time with upper management.

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Get Off My Lawn: Learning to Share Space

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-02-10 05:25

When my parents decided to visit, I was happy for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the prospect of exploring New Caledonia from the land side.  All too often as we sail around the planet, we stick to strictly water-related activities.  Sailing.  Snorkelling.  Swimming.  The three “S”s.  So this was a chance to try something new.

And over the past couple of weeks, we have been out almost every day.  We explored the reef off Ile aux Canards.  Toured the aquarium.  Hit the beach.

Hmm.  Okay, I guess we haven’t completely broken free from our water-based activity schedule.  Even our trip into the mountains to visit Sarramea centered around – you guessed it – swimming in the trou feuillet.

Another family left just as we arrived.  Hot dog!  We had the place to ourselves.  The girls wasted no time in getting into the water.  And after enduring the same safety lecture from me and both of their grandparents about not getting washed down into the next pool, we all had some fun.

Until…

…about thirty teenagers arrived in a hormonal wave.  They were armed with swimsuits, beer, and the bullet-proof shield of teenage immortality.

Our quiet family time was done.

The girls, of course, were fascinated.  Stylish has reached that magical almost-in-middle-school age.  I can almost feel myself disappearing.  She and her sister set to work to do their best Jane Goodall as they observed these interesting newcomers.  (Their wildlife blind could use a little work, though.)

It didn’t take long for hijinks to ensue.  Like jumping from ever-farther back over the rocks.

And so my parents and I did what every adult over the age of twenty-two does when confronted with such shenanigans.  We tutted.
“Did you see that? *tsk*”
“Lucky he didn’t break his neck.”
“Oh, no, they’re jumping in groups, now.”
“Those girls almost landed right on top of each other.”

But, as satisfying as it was to cluck at tomfoolery that we had also engaged in at that age, we soon had our fill.  Time to pry the girls off their rock and move upstream to a quieter pool.

And all was well again.

Sarramea accomplished, we drove home happy.  And tomorrow?  We’ll try another inland trip.  To Rivière-Bleue.

What, you didn’t think we would go somewhere we couldn’t swim, did you?

INFLATABLE SAILING DINGHY: Dreaming of the DinghyGo

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-02-07 13:36

Is there a cruising sailor anywhere who doesn’t dream of having a tender that can double as daysailer? The only problem with this dream is you really need to have a hard dinghy to make it come true. And hard dinghies–let’s face it–aren’t nearly as useful and convenient as inflatable ones. They’re nowhere near as stable, can’t carry as much stuff, are much too heavy, and are hard to stow.

But hold the phone sports fans… the DinghyGo 2, a Dutch-built inflatable sailing tender that will hopefully appear here in the U.S. in the next year or two, may be just what we’re looking for.

It certainly checks most of my boxes. The size is perfect–9 feet long, exactly the same length as my last three inflatable tenders; it doesn’t weigh very much–just 66 pounds; you can roll it up, which is something I always insist on in an inflatable (no RIBs for me, thank you very much); AND you can leave the sailing rig off and run it with an outboard engine (up to 8 HP) if you want.

On the beach, masquerading as a normal outboard-powered dinghy

There are just two features that seem less than ideal to me. First, the floor (except for a couple of hard bits around the daggerboard and mast step) is inflatable instead of solid. Second, the hull fabric is not Hypalon. According to Ian Thomson of Nestaway Boats, which just started selling the boats into the U.K. last year, the fabric instead is a polyurethane/PVC hybrid known as Balnex, which he admits is not quite as durable as Hypalon, but can be welded instead of glued at the joints. The fabric should, however, be more durable than plain old PVC and is also lighter (and less costly) than Hypalon. Of course, the inflatable floor, though not as stiff as a solid floor, also reduces weight, which is something, frankly, that seems more and more important to me as I get older.

You’re looking at 43 sq.ft. of sail area. Plus the rudder and daggerboard seem plenty big enough to do the job

If you want you can remove the center thwart and forward mast-partner thwart when you’re not sailing the boat

One nice feature of the DinghyGo is that it doesn’t look like it’s any more trouble to assemble than a regular roll-up inflatable, as you can see in this video here:

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Another very nice feature is that it’s not egregiously expensive. Ian tells me the price in the U.K. is now £2249, including the sailing rig, which translates to $3,687 USD at today’s exchange rate. Subtract the British VAT included in Ian’s price (20%) and that works out to about $2,950 USD. Compare that to the $2,800 I paid for my current Apex inflatable, sans sailing rig, and it seems pretty reasonable.

One big question, of course, is how well does it sail? The British comic Sailing Today published a review of several inflatable craft last October and described the sailing performance of the DinghyGo as “sedate,” but noted that it does make “decent headway” to windward and is a “true all-rounder,” in that it sails reasonably well and also motors and rows reasonably well. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is about all I’d ever hope for in a dinghy.

If sedate sailing just won’t do it for you, you can instead take a look at the French-built Tiwal 3.2, which was introduced into the U.S. market at Annapolis last fall. This is more of a dedicated inflatable sailboat, with a flat PVC inflatable hull under a rigid metal frame, and is cleverly designed. It can’t really function as a tender, but according to the Sailing Today crew it does kick butt and is “startlingly stiff and exciting” to sail.

It’s also about twice as expensive as the DinghyGo. The current price is $5,950, which includes a sailing rig with a 58 sq.ft. sail. If you want the bigger 75 sq.ft. sail (and who wouldn’t?) you have to pony up an extra $1,200.

Confessions of a reef snob

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-02-07 06:59

In than forty minutes of water time at Richelieu rock, we saw more intense marine life than we have seen anywhere in Thailand by a wide margin. Local fishermen knew all about this gold mine of fish, and helped Jacques Cousteau discover be the last person to “find” it- he’s said to have popularized the spot for diving.

I need to share a little more of the spectacular goodness we saw there. It surpassed our Malaysian spots as well (granted, they not include the amazing NE side of Borneo- just Tioman, NW  Borneo, and the whole W side of the peninsula. So yeah, still most of Malaysia, if not the marine crown jewels).

It starts with nothing more than chunks of limestone, poking up from below the surface. Plummeting down to the seabed at a sharp angle, it’s not an expanse of tidally influenced reef like most of the spots we’ve seen, but instead a hotspot for a broad spectrum of life and the pelagics cruising through.

It’s not a large area, but it seems like a magnet for these ocean going fish: we saw really big schools trevally, several species of tuna, giant barracuda, and a couple ridiculously big Spanish mackerel.

Rainbow runners where there by the thousand: we’d seen them in big schools at the Surins, but only very small juveniles, here there were “pan size” fish schooling.

That picture of the rock at the top? It might not look like much, but get down close and it is so ridiculously full of life. I’m a complete sucker for anemone fish: Jamie got this excellent picture of a camera shy one.

We’re a little out of practice, but I felt like my breath had been coming back during the prior days at the Surin islands. It failed me a little here, which I want to say is because I was just slightly out of control from the excitement at all this awesome underwater life. I probably just need more time and practice, though!

In forty minutes, I saw four giant morays. This one posed while being cleaned by a wrasse. He held his mouth open for cleaning and it kills me a little, but I totally flubbed the shot of the fish in his mouth, cleaning those sharp looking teeth. Wow!

Only one nudibranch, but seeing a nudibranch pretty much makes my day. Seriously, how cool looking are these little guys? Think of them as snails without shells, but in technicolor.

Then, there were the little vignettes, like this pretty murex nestled into the… algae? Seaweed? Whatever. Gorgeous. So tempted to pick it up for a closer look at the underside, but I resisted.

Clams, sponges, tunicates, more.

Hard corals, soft corals, living in harmony.

If I could write another parallel life for myself, I’d make Schoolhouse Rock songs for all these amazing critters!

I’m rarely jealous of he divers- most of the life is well within my comfortable freediving range. Still, I’d love to see this with some gear- it’s about the depth more than the top 10 meters.

Above water, there’s no drama. Just come rocky tips, our dinghy, a couple of dive boats.

If we get back this way, we’ll plan a longer stay, and maybe a bit of gear.

Keen divers know it makes my day if you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website.

I think I’ll start blogging again.

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:32

I’m not sure why I stopped blogging. I was tied into that group that paid me for my blog hits and they put pressure on me to blog frequently. I don;t care for that kind of pressure. I don’t always have something to say. As Bob Dylan once said, “I’d give anything for an original thought right now”. I still get overcome with grief over losing Spike. Can’t see that changing anytime soon. I talk to him on his Facebook page. I like that but it often gets me down. The only time I am truly happy is when I am with my granddaughter Violet or I am buried in new work.

The QUAIL project kept me occupied for a while but it is on hold now waiting for the right time for the client to build. But I did enjoy that process a lot. I worked hand in hand with Jody Culbert who does all my 3D modelling work. Jody is truly amazing. Sometimes he knows what I want before I know what I want. He work is seductive and the clients love it. Before long, or so it seems, we have a virtual photo of the finished boat.

What’s really fun  is when Jody and I share his computer screen via Skype and he works his 3D magic while I boss him around making him try all sorts of whacky ideas. He’s very patient with me. We are quite the pair. We look like we could be crusty old brothers. I’m the better looking one of course.

The thing that has been a lot of fun is Kim’s FRANCIS LEE project. The build drug out at the school due to the schools scheduling but after a while Kim put four full time pros on the job in order to get it finished and out of the shop.
Now the boat is in the water after a couple more months of finishing details at CSR Marine in Ballard. We launched the boat last week. No fanfare. Just Kim and me standing there feeling pretty darn satisfied.

I love this photo taken by my old pal Neil Rabinowitz. Two old geezers geezering. I think the fact that you can’t see our faces makes the shot more interesting. You have to finish the picture in your own mind.
The boat floats on its designed lines and has come in spot on for weight. I am very pleased that the hard work paid off. Now we just have to wait while the sails are being made by the Schatteaurs. Then we can go sailing and see exactly what we have created. Kim will have launching sheebang before that. I expect we will have 200 people there.

So, this is the end of this blog entry. I don’t even know how to spell check it. I have no idea how my images will post. This is a test.

Talk to you all soon. Bob P.

Icom M506, five models of goodness

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-02-06 13:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 6, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

When Standard Horizon introduced its Matrix AIS/GPS radio in December, we learned from a European reader that Icom UK was showing off a VHF with just about every feature a boater might desire (with the possible exception of a built-in GPS).  As hoped for, Icom America has now revealed its version of the IC-M506 and will be showing it in Miami next week. It turns out that at least here in the states the M506 will be available in five models so you can get the features you want without paying for ones you don’t…

So once approved by the FCC, the base model known as the M506 NMEA will be a conventional fixed VHF in terms of using NMEA 0183 to connect with a GPS for DSC distress calls and other functions like position sharing. But there will be kits available to add NMEA 2000 connectivity and/or a dual channel AIS receiver. The next models up include N2K with a choice of either front or rear mics, and the top two models add the AIS. Pricing is not set but may look something like $500 for the base model plus a $100 each for the two major options plus $50 for the rear mic. Icom has always been a premium brand and even the base model M506 seems to have a lot going for it.

For instance, the newly designed mic is purportedly louder while still including Icom noise cancelling improvement of both incoming and outgoing audio. And the big 132×96 pixel display looks good for the nav and AIS screens as well as for using the soft key and knob interface possibly best seen on this video from London Boat Show. The M506 will also support a second station Command Mic IV, apparently including the AIS functions. I have not yet tried Icom’s last call voice recording — first seen on the M73 handheld, and extended to 2 minutes on the M506 — but I liked the feature a lot when I’ve used it on other radios.
I have not paid attention to which VHF radios support a rear mic attachment, but now that I’m trying to design new Gizmo helm panels with more of a ‘glass’ look, I appreciate the rear mic possibility. (I also wonder if some MFD manufacturer will come up with a big screen VHF interface something like Fusion Link, but VHF regulations may prohibit that.)

Finally, while the M506 manual is not yet available, I don’t doubt this UK site’s claim that the radio can easily set up direct DSC calls to an AIS target (a feature so far still missing from the Simrad RS35 and Lowrance Link 8, I think). Afterall, the M506 can apparently interface with Icom’s own MA500TR AIS transponder. I wonder if a M506 N2K will display and make target calls using standard AIS data coming in via NMEA 2000. Any other questions I should ask in Miami? 

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Richelieu rock: a spark of spectacular marine life

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-02-05 07:00

Richelieu rock is an oasis in the desert of overfishing that is Southeast Asia. This pinnacle sits near the southern end of the Mergui archipelago, climbing around 130 feet from the shallow waters  of the Andaman sea about twenty miles off from the coast of Thailand.

It was time to wind back to the mainland after nearly a week in the Surin islands, for the better part of a week, and it only took a minor detour to route past Richelieu on our way. With the reputation as a top dive site, making that detour that was an easy decision! We left a little after sunrise, edging past a row of longtails that had come into the quiet bay overnight.

It might have been difficult to find- and with just a few feet of rock above the water at low tide, not something you want to find accidentally- but dive boats on the horizon made it clear where to point. In the open waters of 120 – 130 feet deep, anchoring is a possibility but a poor option. Instead, we let Totem drift, and took turns in the water while she edged south in the light breeze.

Our friends on Nalukai offered their dinghy as a group shuttle so we could minimize water traffic and launching hassles.

Jame and the kids went in the first wave. Floating on Totem a couple of hundred yards away, I could hear the shrieks of excitment when they first got their heads underwater. This place is that incredible!

Rock face so crammed with life, there’s little rock to see- backed by massive schools of fish

The kids- there are six between our two crews- dove and swam and gasped and shrieked at the wealth of marine life.

There’s no tying the dinghy up, so someone always holds onto the painter. Current swirls around and through the pinnacle, so this isn’t an easy task.


Considering our cruising grounds the last year, from eastern Indonesia all the way to the edge of Burma, you’d think we would have seen an abundance of beautiful reefs and underwater life. Hardly the case. Instead, what we have seen in abundance are lifeless reefs, with grey shells of dead coral structures, low diversity, small scale critters, and life skewed to imbalance.

Corals, reef fish, echinoderms, molluscs, pelagics, and more

Richelieu was the counterpoint. There are others, but it’s sad that they are the exceptions instead of the norm.

We’ve heard different explanations. It’s wave action and debris from the big 2004 tsunami that killed coral and broke down reef life. Or, it’s the 2010 Andaman Sea warming, where temperatures 4 degrees Celsius over historical norms bleached out coral in this previously famous diving region. Or, it’s the overfishing that happens in Thailand and all over the region. Or, it’s the illegal cyanide and dynamite fishing that’s still being used.

Vast expanses of anemone fields across the rock

It is one of these things? It’s probably some combination of all of them. How can we fix it? Is the ocean really broken? Can consumer behavior be changed? I want to just enjoy this beautiful place, but it smacks us with what’s missing elsewhere.

We could spend all day here. Actually, we could spend many days! But it’s an exposed place, not an anchorage, and we need to get to the coast. Filling with deep gulps from the oasis, then turning back toward the desert with our memories intact.

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Keen divers know that reading this on the Sailfeed website makes Behan as happy as spotting a nudibranch.

HAX AND FLAX: Navico Electro-Junket in the Florida Keys

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-02-04 18:26

I spent much of last week at the Hawk’s Cay Resort in Florida hobnobbing with a large clutch of my fellow marine journos (a.k.a. the “hacks”) and an even larger clutch of brand and tech gurus from Navico, the marine electronics conglomerate, courtesy of PR mavens Rus Graham and Andrew Golden (a.k.a. the “flacks”). It was, I think, the largest marine-industry junket I’ve ever attended, with a total of 24 hacks running around in nine different test boats being chased by two different photo boats. And, yes, of course these chaperoned love-fests are inherently incestuous, but they are also exceedingly educational.

Navico, in case you hadn’t noticed, has been in serious PacMan mode and has gobbled up a number of marine-electronics companies over the past several years. In the process it has made itself into the largest player in the recreational market and has distilled what were once seven rather diffuse brands into a pure nucleus of three well-established power brands: Lowrance, Simrad, and B&G. The idea moving forward is that each of these will develop and market products specialized for their respective niches, as in Lowrance = smaller fishing boats, Simrad = larger power cruisers and sport-fishing boats (and also commercial vessels up to 300 gross tons), and B&G (of course) = sailboats.

Navico’s CEO, Leif Ottosson, has set a blistering pace re product development, and the company as a whole is now geared up to introduce at least one new product to the market every 20 days. In the not-so-distant future they are confident they can ramp this up to one new product every 15 days. In any other industry this would seem like gratuitous flack-speak, and you’d expect the “new” products to be only slight variations of older ones, but in electronics generally the market really does evolve that quickly. It seems that Navico’s real goal is to haul the once somnolent realm of recreational marine electronics that much closer to the larger industry’s bleeding edge.

The Navico mythos, as interpreted by clever flacks in a video shown to us gullible hacks

What I was most interested in, of course, was the kit from B&G, particularly their SailSteer and SailTime instrument and plotter displays, which lay out nav data in very sailor-specific ways. I had played a small part in the process that saw these products top the list in SAIL‘s 2014 Freeman K. Pittman Innovation Awards, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to play with them on the water.

It’s very cool stuff. What it does basically is take the sort of hi-tech graphics you saw on your TV screen while watching the America’s Cup last summer and translate them to a display mounted on your boat, so you can actually make use of them while sailing.

In our case we were sailing a borrowed J/111, fresh from Key West Race Week, and ran a series of mock starts off a start line that had been laid out for us. We wheeled around either side of the line during the pre-start, pinging the marks, and once we’d done that had this very useful graphic to help us set up for the gun:

Here in one compact format we see numeric values for shortest distance to the start line (center top), plus the distance to either end of the line (top left and right). The graphic you see running across the middle of the screen represents the start line itself, which in this case is a green arrow pointing right, telling us the starboard end is favored. The wind barb to the right shows the wind speed and relative wind direction; the blue arrow to the left shows which way the current is running. The numeric values on the bottom are self-explanatory, save for the one in the lower right-hand corner, which tells us how much of an advantage we’ll have starting at the starboard end of the line versus a boat starting at the port end–in this case 9.1 boat-lengths.

Pretty nifty, no? Being a lowly cruiser, I normally have no idea what’s going on during a race start, but with this display in front of me I might just have a fighting chance.

During our beats up to our windward mark (also laid out for us by some Navico buoy elves), we turned our attention to this display:

Ingenious this. Here we see in one graphic the true wind direction and angle (the green triangle with the T in it on the outer compass ring), the bearing to our mark or waypoint (the green dot), our own compass heading (the boxed number at the top of the ring), our course-over-ground (the gold triangle just left of our heading), and the current direction and speed (the blue arrow in the center of the display). Most importantly, we see our starboard- and port-tack laylines (the green and red dotted lines) AND the zones within which recent wind shifts have varied (the green and red cones surrounding each dotted line).

In this case, we can see at a glance that the tack we’re sailing on is not favored, but that we are pointing above the layline. Once the green dot lines up with our port-tack layline, we can safely tack over, and if we anticipate a lift or a header we can see exactly how much room there is to play with either side of the layline. Note, too, this is real-time data. The dotted laylines will immediately shift with the wind. And as an added bonus, the time and distance to waypoint values you see on the right are “real” values that account for the tacking you have to do to get there.

Of course, all this runs the other way, too, and shows you jibing angles when sailing off the wind.

You can also see this laid out on a conventional plotter display, like this:

And to help you track what the wind is doing more precisely, so that you can differentiate temporary shifts from trending shifts, you can look at your wind data comme cą:

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that much of this information will also be valuable to cruisers just looking to get somewhere in time for a sundowner. Personally, I’m thinking it would be especially handy on an offshore passage, where you can really get bent doing tacking angles and wind trends in your head over very long distances.

See? I told you this was incestuous. This is me old pal Ralph Naranjo, formerly of SAIL, previously with Cruising World, and now with Cruising World once again, taking a turn at the wheel. Looks like his new titanium spine is working great!

That’s me brother-from-another-mother Ben Ellison, formerly with Ocean Navigator, previously with SAIL and Power & Motoryacht, formerly with Yachting and Cruising World, but currently now with SAIL and Power & Motoryacht again (and also SAILfeed!) doing the steering. That’s B&G product manager Rob Langford-Wood in the white shirt to the right of him; Ralph again with the camera in his crotch; and B&G global brand manager Jim Deheer in the green shirt in the foreground

That’s B&G’s Jim Deheer again on the left next to Brad Faber, owner of Utah, the J/111 we borrowed. Thanks for the great ride, Brad!

That’s B&G’s Rob Langford-Wood on the left again, with me compadre Dave Schmidt of SAIL and SailWorld

The other Navico product I was very interested in getting some exposure to was Insight Genesis, their user-created mapping system. This is a $99-a-year subscription service that allows you to record your sonar data while running your boat, then upload it to Navico, who will send you back an electronic chart displaying corrections based on the data you gathered.

This is aimed primarily at fishermen, who are acutely interested in bottom features, so I had to go out on a Lowrance boat with Gordon Sprouse, Lowrance’s global brand manager, to see it in action.

Gordon prepares to record our sonar data

But actually, when you’re running your boat, there isn’t much action. You just hit a button marked “record” and then go off and do your thing. So I got to see Gordon showing off a bunch of amazing Lowrance sonar products that not only show you where the fish are, but also show you what they’re thinking and what they had for lunch.

As I remarked to Gordon: “Man, the poor fish don’t stand a chance.”

To which he replied, proudly: “No, they don’t!”

Later, at the final dog-and-pony presentation, we were shown a chart with all the sonar data all us participating hacks had collected while scribbling about Duck Key on our various demo runs. The new data, with very detailed bottom contour lines, which also includes features like vegetation cover and bottom composition, is overlaid on top of existing off-the-shelf Insight cartography. There are various parameters to control for data quality. Only data collected at speeds under 20 mph is utilized (5 to 7 mph is the ideal survey speed), and all data is automatically corrected both for tidal variations and unique events like wind-driven tides and storm surges (via links to public buoy data).

The big kicker is that it will soon be possible, via a system Navico is calling Social Mapping, for Insight Genesis subscribers to share all their data with each other. This opens up the possibility of a brave new world of true crowd-sourced charts, where everyone everywhere who is running a boat with a depthsounder becomes part of a vast global community of chart surveyors.

Example of a user-generated Insight Genesis chart

It really is a bit staggering to think about.

Of course, again, it will be fishermen who most profit from this (at least as long as there are fish out there for them to catch), but it is also a technology that can benefit many cruising sailors, particularly those who like to explore places like the Bahamas, where shoals and channels are poorly marked and are constantly moving around.

And this is only the tip of the berg when it comes to what Navico is up to these days.

Someday, no doubt, Gordon Sprouse will be able to control the world with his Pebble watch and his iPad, thanks to Navico’s GoFree wireless network and innumerable indepedent app developers

To follow it all in detail, I recommend you keep an eye on Ben Ellison’s Panbo blog at SAILfeed. Plus, you should obviously keep clicking on those Lowrance, Simrad, and B&G websites every 20 days or so.

Panbo turns 10, and founder Yme’s Arviro 10 project

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-02-04 15:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Feb 4, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

If you browse to the bottom of the Panbo monthly archives, you’ll see that the very first entry went up on February 4, 2004. So Panbo is 10 years old today, which may be a century in Internet years?  In fact, one motivation for founder Yme Bosma was an interest in what was then the new-fangled “blog” content management format. While he soon had to focus back on his high tech work and I took over Panbo in 2005, the boating geek bug is often incurable, as many of us know. It seems more than coincidental — and very cool — that Panbo’s 120th month is also the debut of Yme’s all electric, solar powered, and iPad instrumented cruiser design, the Arviro 10.

You can learn a lot about Yme’s design at Arviro.com, but you may also enjoy browsing the blog of hull #1 Drift Away as it evolved from a pile of aluminum plates to test cruising around Holland in January (the blog is written in Dutch, but Google does fairly well at the translation). The design goal is a trailerable pocket cruiser with a 7.5Kw steerable pod drive that can propel her at about 5 knots for 50 miles from a 30Kw lithium battery bank that lives in her hollow keel. Added range and a nice complement of comfort appliances at anchor are powered by 1500W of walkable SolbianFlex solar panels almost invisible on the salon roof. Actual performance seems pretty good so far, even in wind and waves.

I particularly enjoyed watching Drift Away on Marine Traffic as Yme quietly worked his way up through the interior of Friesland last weekend. I know it’s not so green now at 54° North, but what a perfect vessel for wandering those historic and beautiful waterways. Imagine trailering it behind your (large) vehicle to other exotic waterways, camping aboard along the way! That concept remains untested, but right now the first Aviro 10 has been hauled into the big trade center in Leeuwarden where apparently she’ll be playing a special part in the grand opening of Boot Holland this Friday.

Just because the boat is raw (but easy to maintain) aluminum on the outside doesn’t mean it can’t be classy and comfy on the inside. And note the blank-looking helm forward of young Jesse Bosma. His dad tells me that “everything should work only through tablets, phones and an LED TV screen” and he added that Drift Away “has a 4G/wifi router on board for permanent connectivity and facilitating the boat network.”

Of course, there’s much technology tucked away on this boat, and I think a lot of it is Victron blue. In fact, when I wrote about Victron’s powerful new Color Monitor GX, the lead photo showed an early unit at work under Drift Away’s helm seat. I gather that Yme mainly intends to view the monitor data via its Internet or direct browser connections…

…and I know that he’s also working with Chetco Digital’s SeaSmart gear and vDash software to get the Aviro’s NMEA 2000 data out to apps. But at least some of the monitoring and control is not yet finished, and more detailed coverage will come in a later entry. The great news there is that Panbo correspondent Kees Verruijt lives right down the canal from Leeuwarden, plans to be at Boot Holland, and has already had a ride on Drift Away. “I liked it lot,” he wrote me, adding that Yme’s design is “brimming with good ideas, both electronic and not.”

I look forward to what I’m sure will be detailed systems coverage by Kees, and I understand that Victron is working on a video. In the meantime, I encourage readers to dig deep into the Drift Away blog and Aviro site. Mainly, though, I want to thank Yme for starting Panbo 10 years ago and wish him well with both his new boat business and his new cruising machine.

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