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Inspect your sails: identifying UV damaged cloth

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-11-20 19:35

A dependable suit of sails to carry you towards the horizon is the basic tool of every cruiser. I’m sharing more of Jamie’s expertise as a sailmaker on the blog: most recently, about how to check the stitching in sails for UV damage.  This time- he’s going to tell you how to evaluate the cloth.

Jamie often checks sails on the boats we’re with. The cruising boats we meet in Southeast Asia have often done hard miles, but you don’t have to cross an ocean to have sailcloth damaged by UV exposure. He’d like to empower sailors with the right information to check their own to avoid an unpleasant days on the water, or worse.

Sailmaker says

Testing sailcloth for UV damage is not as obvious as the thread test, but should give you a good idea of condition before running off to a sail loft.

Kite’s main looks great at a distance, but inspection showed a few problems: UV and hinge points were factors.

Torn cloth

Sails tear for a variety of reasons, and any tear is a perfect opportunity to test for UV damage. Simply, tear at the existing damage (just a little!). Easily torn cloth is likely rotten. If it tears, but not so easily, then it may have some damage. Of course, 5 ounce cloth is delicate compared to 9 ounce cloth, so account for the relative strength of each cloth weight. If there is no convenient rip to tear into, then checking for UV damage is more of a look and feel inspection.

Light testing

Stretch the sail out, ideally on a sunny day. Lift the sail to walk/crouch underneath it and look to the sky, through the cloth. Light coming through sailcloth will show differently where the cloth is thinned from UV damage, wear, and fatigue. With use, plastics used in sailcloth to bind the weave and add bias stability break down. Hard creases will be obvious (more light shining through), indicating weakened cloth, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a problem. Look and feel if cloth is thinned, has pinholes of light shining through, has a softer hand than surrounding cloth, or has a rougher texture. These symptoms suggest more damage and a lower threshold for tearing.

Assessing the extent

If weakened cloth is found, you can assess how it may impact the sail, especially if there is no sailmaker near. Sails loads tend to parallel the edges, with the highest load along the leech. Weakened cloth oriented across the load (perpendicular to the leech, luff, or foot) is more likely to fail. Weakened cloth that parallels edges can also fail (due in part to the warp vs. fill yarn counts in the cloth), but are easier to repair, if only temporarily with sticky back Dacron. Natural hinge points, such as the edge of a reinforcing patch where multiple layers of cloth becomes one layer, are also susceptible to cloth damage. Mainsail flaking systems that force sails to crease along the same fold, like Dutchman systems, will weaken at those hing points over time. All chafe, wear, and fatigue damage is exacerbated by UV exposure.

Cover those sails!

Faded Sunbrella shows it has done an excellent job of providing sacrificial protection: the cloth on this sail is in fine shape.

Keeping sails covered when not in use is the best way for them to last a long time. A little inspection once a year can prevent sail damage or lead you to seek out a replacement sail before wasting good money on a tarp. Not surprisingly, professional opinions of a sail’s condition can vary. Armed with your own sail inspection know-how, perhaps some rockstar sailmaker won’t be so pressed to talk you into a new white suit.

~ ~ ~

Hopefully our Sailmaker Says series is helpful. If you’ve got questions, please reach out! He’s always happy to help. And of course, if that sail is beyond salvaging, Jamie is an active sailmaker and would love to provide a quote for a new sail! And whether you are interested in a new sail from him or not, he’s happy to just answer questions to try and combat the reams of misinformation he sees online about sails.

Savvy sailors know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

No UV damage here! Just a gratuitous picture of Totem’s pretty asymmetric.

Moving in THAT Direction

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-11-20 18:04

By KL Posted November 20, 2014

I reckon the first time that it really hit my radar screen to have a Western sailing team tied to an Asian or Middle Eastern flag was Valencia 2007. What had been a French effort that ran out of dough morphed into China Team with the avowed intent of developing, eventually, an all-Chinese crew for America’s Cup.

Didn’t happen.

Didn’t happen going into AC34 with the 45-foot cats, not for China, and not for Korea.

The Sultanate of Oham, meanwhile, is taking a different tack, building a small boat racing and sailing program, including girls and women, plus an offshore program ranging from take-a-ride to serious ocean competition.

Musandam-Oman was raced solo in the Route du Rhum by French skipper Sidney Gavignet, but the word now is—

Britain’s well-known offshore sailor Brian Thompson returns to the Sultanate of Oman’s flagship MOD70 trimaran Musandam-Oman Sail to take over from French skipper Sidney Gavignet for the return leg of the Route du Rhum, a trans-Atlantic delivery from Guadeloupe to Lorient in France. For the first time in the history of Oman Sail, the national initiative that began in 2008 with a mission to create a generation of sailors, the extreme 70ft multihull will be crewed by a majority Omani crew.

This is a landmark for the organisation and a second major achievement this year that saw the team set a new World Record against all the odds in the summer when it raced the 70ft trimaran around Britain and Ireland with a 50% Omani team shaving 16 minutes and 38 seconds off the record set by a boat almost twice its size.

Sidney Gavignet hands over the helm to Brian after an epic single-handed Route du Rhum sprint across the Atlantic from St Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean in 8 days, 19 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds earlier this month. The French skipper remained on the island to spend time sailing with and preparing his majority Omani crew ahead of the landmark Atlantic delivery scheduled for Saturday.

“This delivery is a solid first step towards the 2015 season for Oman Sail,” said skipper Sidney Gavignet. “We are focussed on preparing for the future with the team and every opportunity to sail offshore is good for my Omani teammates. Our goal is to do this crossing in the best possible conditions for learning and to kick off the 2015 season on a good footing. I am really happy for my Omani crewmates who are 200% committed to this experience.”

This is a landmark for the organisation and a second major achievement this year that saw the team set a new World Record against all the odds in the summer when it raced the 70ft trimaran around Britain and Ireland with a 50% Omani team shaving 16 minutes and 38 seconds off the record set by a boat almost twice its size.

Sidney Gavignet hands over the helm to Brian after an epic single-handed Route du Rhum sprint across the Atlantic from St Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean in 8 days, 19 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds earlier this month. The French skipper remained on the island to spend time sailing with and preparing his majority Omani crew ahead of the landmark Atlantic delivery scheduled for Saturday.

“This delivery is a solid first step towards the 2015 season for Oman Sail,” said skipper Sidney Gavignet. “We are focussed on preparing for the future with the team and every opportunity to sail offshore is good for my Omani teammates. Our goal is to do this crossing in the best possible conditions for learning and to kick off the 2015 season on a good footing. I am really happy for my Omani crewmates who are 200% committed to this experience.”

Fahad Al Hasni is a MOD70 regular since 2012 and an integral member of the offshore racing team – he will be joined by three fellow Omani sailors, Yassir Al Rahbi, Abdulrahman Al Mashari and Ali Al Balushi who are new to the 70ft trimaran this year, but who come from the offshore squad and dinghy racing team. They will also have French offshore regular Giles Favennec onboard.

“This will be the first time that we will be a majority Omani crew onboard the MOD70 and Yassir, Abdulrahman, Ali and I are really excited to have this opportunity. We look forward to sailing with Brian Thompson again; he has a lot of depth and experience and is very good at sharing his knowledge.

“The 2014 MOD season has been absolutely huge, first we beat the Kiel Welcome Race Record then set a new World Record for the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race in August with a 50% Omani crew for the first time, and finally finished the year with Sidney Gavignet’s epic single-handed Route du Rhum race across the Atlantic – it has been an excellent learning curve for all of us and an inspiration for us to go even further in our careers and for the younger Omani sailors back in Oman to see what is possible and work hard towards it.”

This is a landmark for the organisation and a second major achievement this year that saw the team set a new World Record against all the odds in the summer when it raced the 70ft trimaran around Britain and Ireland with a 50% Omani team shaving 16 minutes and 38 seconds off the record set by a boat almost twice its size.

Sidney Gavignet hands over the helm to Brian after an epic single-handed Route du Rhum sprint across the Atlantic from St Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean in 8 days, 19 hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds earlier this month. The French skipper remained on the island to spend time sailing with and preparing his majority Omani crew ahead of the landmark Atlantic delivery scheduled for Saturday.

“This delivery is a solid first step towards the 2015 season for Oman Sail,” said skipper Sidney Gavignet. “We are focussed on preparing for the future with the team and every opportunity to sail offshore is good for my Omani teammates. Our goal is to do this crossing in the best possible conditions for learning and to kick off the 2015 season on a good footing. I am really happy for my Omani crewmates who are 200% committed to this experience.”

Fahad Al Hasni is a MOD70 regular since 2012 and an integral member of the offshore racing team – he will be joined by three fellow Omani sailors, Yassir Al Rahbi, Abdulrahman Al Mashari and Ali Al Balushi who are new to the 70ft trimaran this year, but who come from the offshore squad and dinghy racing team. They will also have French offshore regular Giles Favennec onboard.

“This will be the first time that we will be a majority Omani crew onboard the MOD70 and Yassir, Abdulrahman, Ali and I are really excited to have this opportunity. We look forward to sailing with Brian Thompson again; he has a lot of depth and experience and is very good at sharing his knowledge.

“The 2014 MOD season has been absolutely huge, first we beat the Kiel Welcome Race Record then set a new World Record for the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race in August with a 50% Omani crew for the first time, and finally finished the year with Sidney Gavignet’s epic single-handed Route du Rhum race across the Atlantic – it has been an excellent learning curve for all of us and an inspiration for us to go even further in our careers and for the younger Omani sailors back in Oman to see what is possible and work hard towards it.”

rian Thompson made it into the history books by becoming the first Briton to break the Round the World sailing record twice. Also the first to sail non stop around the world four times. A vastly experienced and successful offshore racer on all types of high performance yachts – from 21ft Mini Transat racers to 140ft Maxi Trimarans, he raced the 2012 MOD70 season with Musandam-Oman Sail.

“I am very excited to be sailing the MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail back from its very successful Route du Rhum race skippered by Sidney Gavignet. I was following the race closely and was so impressed with the boat’s performance against its much bigger rivals.

“Next week we are going to be heading back from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to our base in Lorient, France, and for the first time, the crew is going to be majority Omani – 4 out of the 6 total. I am honoured that Sidney and the team have given me the responsibility of skippering the boat back and expanding the experience of our young Omani sailors.

“To me having a majority Omani crew is a highly significant point and a sign of the great progress that Oman Sail has made in creating a pool of exceptionally talented sailors, who are able to transfer their skills to a wide variety of high performance craft. This bodes well for future Oman Sail campaigns.”


Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images

Oman is also a bridge between factions in the Middle East, as this account takes up:

NPR takes a look at Oman’s seafaring heritage as a crossroads trading nation

The Money Shot: Getting the Ultimate Cruising Boat Photo

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-11-20 12:29

For a racing boat the ultimate photo captures plumes of whitewater sheering off your bow. In your wake, just out of focus, a famous rival shakes his fists.

For a cruiser the ultimate photo captures your boat in some spectacular anchorage, or at least the photo evokes a sense of place. We all know getting there is half the fun, but the shot of your boat in the perfect destination proves you actually got somewhere. In addition, this photo should accomplish two goals:

1. Elicit immediate recognition and respect from fellow cruisers.
2. Make landlubbers think you’re a freakin’ daredevil.

Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins), on Fatu Hiva, must be one of the most photographed anchorages in cruising:

Photo courtesy of Brian on S/V Delos

Is there anyone who’s ever anchored there who didn’t at least try to get a good photo of their boat? If you can get one with your boat there alone, so much the better. The Bay of Virgins covers our two criteria: Any cruiser will either have fond memories of the place, or be dying to get there someday. After understanding that it takes sailing 3000 miles of open ocean to get there, any landlubber will be duly impressed.

It is arguably the most spectacular anchorage in the South Pacific, and it holds a once-in-a-lifetime shine because a cruiser is unlikely to return…until his next circumnavigation. It’s also usually the first landfall after the long haul. And there’s the story about how it was originally named Baie de Verges (Bay of Penises) because of the rock formations on both sides of the bay, but the missionaries renamed Baie de Vierges (Bay of Virgins) out of modesty. For a story that has been repeated in every travel book, cruising guide, and blog in the world, I wonder if it’s actually true? All of these make it a truly photo-worthy spot, but of course there are many others…

Some are iconic:



Phang Nga Bay, Thailand:

Chatterbox Falls, in British Columbia, seems to be “that place” in the Pacific Northwest, and any cruiser who’s been there knows that to get the photo you must have transited the Malibu Rapids unharmed:

Photo courtesy of Windy and Mike Robertson from S/V Del Viento

For Harry and Jane on Cormorant, Whangamumu, New Zealand, was one of their more memorable anchorages during their 16? year circumnavigation:

Some photos don’t capture a destination, but a mood: the calm anchorage, happy children at play, the captain casually strumming a ukulele…c’mon!:

Photo courtesy of Kristianne Koch Riddle, S/V Pelican

And some photos take the beauty, mix it with a healthy dose of fear, and voila:

Photo courtesy of Jessica Rousseau

Or give us a sense of scale:

Telefon Bay, Deception Island, Antarctica

Then if you can get a photo like this of your boat, well, gee whiz, what more can you say?: Vlakvark, nee Tantalus, now Sweetwater in Antarctica:

Photo courtesy of Dudley Dix at Dudley Dix Yacht Design

My money shot? There’s only one choice. It’s on the bathroom wall, it’s on the business card:

The Cape Horn Windvane: Kamau Interviews Yves Gelinas at Annapolis

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-11-20 10:21

Kamau Kwabena interviews a sailing legend at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. Yves sailed non-stop (almost) and solo around the Great Capes in his Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud, filming the iconic Around the World With Jean-du-Sud movie in the process, a classic sailing film. Hear Yves talk about his Cape Horn wind vane invention in this short interview. 

Also, catch Yves in long-form on the ’59 North Sailing Podcast’ by clicking here.

Nearing the end of the shipyard grind

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-11-19 06:11

We’re in the back half of our stay at Phithak Shipyard (PSS) near Satun, Thailand, and it’s pretty exciting to see work progressing on Totem.

As soon as we arrived, we went through our required projects and the wish list with the yard management. Based on their estimates and some help from home, we decided to go forward… with all of it. I might have had some happy tears at the prospect of these improvements to our Totem! So the plan changed from “a couple of weeks” to as long as our visas allow, keeping an eye on the costs, and getting as much done as possible within time/budget limits.

Progress Report

It’s going OK, even if only one project is completed so far- the stanchion bases (and wow, are they gorgeous!). The must-do list is tracking well. The refrigerator box is finished except for the lids, and reconfigured into a much more usable shape (wider base, shallower depth: I’ll be less likely to end up with three different jars of olives open because I’ve lost one in the bottom). When our fiberglass specialist, Sun, finishes the refrigerator box, he’ll wrap up the remaining few steps on the water tank. They’re both made from fabricated panels with a honeycomb patterned core: strong and lightweight. And with our launch date nearing, new bottom paint will go on shortly- and meanwhile, the hull is getting sanded and prepped.

how’s that for a sexy upgrade? it’s a better design, too

Always surprises!

We dropped the rudder for a full inspection, and it took DAYS to get it off! Unfortunately, it did not pass: there was clearly significant water intrusion. Fortunately, there was no corrosion to the stainless spine and frame. Fortunately, we’re able to get it rebuilt here. The rudder shaft was also bent, a quick job to fix thanks to the machine shop capabilities in the shipyard. What might have only taken days has been a project counted in weeks, but it’s an important safety measure. Check out the expressions on the guys as it finally, finally dropped in this this four second video!


Adding to the list

We’ve decided to tackle two other long-desired projects. When we bought Totem, almost eight years ago, I swore one of the first things we would do was replace the headliner. Guess what? We’ve had the same basketweave-embossed, icky, yellowing old vinyl headliner the whole time! Until now: it is GONE…in the main cabin at least, and hopefully throughout Totem soon. In place, we’re putting up white formica. It is clean, uncluttered, and brings in wonderful light into the cabin. This makes me so happy!

We also decided to reface the galley. It was pretty well torn up already to replace the refrigerator box, and with good help and tools at PSS it seemed like the right time to just do it. The galley also has the same original 1982 yellowing Formica, and these atrocious sliders made of smoke-tinted acrylic for cabinet access. GONE. It became easier to replace the upper cabinet box than just rebuild the front. I renewed my friendship with Pinterest and scoured for ideas on what to do: I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

It is hard, hard work

Jamie is working like a dog. He’s taken one day off the whole time we’ve been here, and seems to be bleeding at least once a day. Niall has been a big help too. They do as much as they can to make the carpenters on Totem as efficient as possible.

The girls pitch in as well, ferrying laundry, keeping our remaining water tank topped up, and other daily tasks that help us keep things running more smoothly. But they’ve also picked up a different job that’s keeping them especially busy, stepping in to care for a litter of motherless kittens found in the yard. They accompanied Jia and Julie, management at the yard, to the vet for checkups when it was clear two of the kittens weren’t thriving. They now administer eyedrops, vitamins, and antibiotics two to three times a day. And then just the other day, they found two puppies who also seemed to be fending for themselves, hiding in the lumber storage area. It’s too bad Totem isn’t an ark because we’re sorely tempted to add furry crew, but it’s just not something we can do right now.

Life in the shipyard

Living aboard has gone much better than I expected. OK: it’s not all roses. We have to use toilets on shore, and nobody wants to make that trip at night. We’ve had at least three rats on board, probably others we don’t know about. I can’t imagine why they choose us over the aromatic fishing boats, and maybe that’s why they don’t all stick around. The boat is always dirty and cluttered, because we’re moving things between cabins as different spaces become work areas. There’s a massive end-of-day cleanup effort but it’s still challenging.

Mairen makes sandwiches amid the construction mess

But we’ve made some new friends, who have really brightened our stay: Jamie, of “Follow the Boat” on Esper, who is doing a major refit on his pretty boat. The British nomads on Shanti, raising their two little boys afloat. We have been treated to gorgeous fresh bread by our Swiss neighbors on the Amel A Go Go. Julie and Jia organized a barbecue one night and grilled the most delicious prawns! There are long evenings spent spinning stories over bottles of Leo in front of the yard’s convenience store while the kids play.

Jamie does weekly vlogs and brought in the Totem kids to “project manage” one week – fun for them, another neat experience. Jamie has a gift for drawing out their personalities- I love this video he made!


Being back in Thailand is wonderful. I am very fond of this village where the shipyard is located: it is a small town, where I can go to the weekly market and run into people I know. It shuts down after dark, other than the call to prayer. There isn’t a whiff of tourism. It’s peaceful and beautiful!

We spent an unforgettable night on a special Thai holiday called Loy Krathong. Jia and Julie took a group of us to dinner at just the kind of place we love: where there is no English on the menu! Afterwards, we went to the river to watch ships hand crafted from banana trunks, palm fronds and flowers, lit with candles and incense and set into the water. Lanterns are sent to the heavens as well, and with Julie and Jia’s help, had our own to send off into the sky. These are wonderful memories we’ll always keep with us.

thanks to Julie for this photo of our family!

Almost finished!

Just like remodeling a house, there are times when it seems to zoom ahead and times when it feels grindingly slow. Some days feel like little has progressed, and on others, there are glimpses of transformation. But it can be frustrating: the yard is really busy, so work doesn’t always follow the timeline we expect. The stainless shop is backed up, so we have multiple stainless projects that haven’t even started: awning frame, bow roller, and a lot of reconfiguration of the stern rails and solar arch… oh, and we hoped to add to the bow pulpit also. It’s a little stressful, since it’s work we are especially keen to do, and we can’t extend for long. But we’ll do what we can, and meanwhile, it’s tremendous to see so man things starting to come together.

If you aspire to the perfect stainless solar arch you’re surely going to read this on the Sailfeed website.

The Really BIG SAIL

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-11-18 18:48

By Kimball Livingston Posted November 18, 2014

Want to get people out to watch sailboat races? Give’em that old college try. Give’em bands. Give’em the Big Sail.

Two years ago, during the Big Sail, Oracle Racing’s first foiling 72 augured in. A mile or so from the Big Sail, but still, it was quite a sight. No added charge for the show.

Big Sail as in four matches on the cityfront of San Francisco, the Tuesday before the local Big Game, Stanford vs. Cal, Cal vs. Stanford.

Varsity, Young Alumni, Masters and Grand Masters in St. Francis Yacht Club’s J/22s, and they split the day. Stanford’s Varsity and Young Alumni teams won their matches, 2-0. Cal’s Masters and Grand Masters won their matches 2-0.

That pic up top is the Stanford band going face to face with Cal. And I ask you, have you ever been inside the Stanford band? I’m still rocking. Lots of work with my big camera is stuck in said camera, pending a recharge when I get back to the office. Maybe even some pictures of boats, but who needs that?

No two ways about it, the crossover works. Football and yachting. At the edge of America.

Phone cams are not ideal . . .

All-in-one WiFi & cell data: Glomex WebBoat 4G & The WiriePro

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-11-18 18:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Nov 18, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

There are two reasons I was a little surprised to read that the Glomex WebBoat 4G won a DAME award this morning at METS. It seems like a minor update to the WebBoat 3G that Kees Verruijt covered here last year, and I thought that the DAME 2014 electronics and software nominees included several strong contenders. On the other hand, I know how hard it is to be a judge, and I thoroughly agree with their statement that WebBoat’s all-in-one approach to marine WiFi and cell communications addresses, “an area of rapidly growing interest in the marine industry.” I can’t count how many cruisers I met recently who were struggling with Internet connectivity, even along the U.S. coast. And I’m happy to report that another all-in-one solution, The WiriePro, will soon be available…

First let’s explore the WebBoat, specifications here (and also the manual). Inside the 12-inch high dome are two diversity antennas and a modem able to handle a whole lot of cellular frequencies and data protocols (though not some types found outside Europe). There’s also a high power WiFi antenna and radio for near shore connections, plus a router that joins both types of communications and serves them to devices on the boat via another WiFi antenna and radio. Kee’s cutaway photo above shows the original 3G model, but I doubt the 4G looks much different. The router/access point can be moved below with an Ethernet cable if metal decks block the WiFi, and that dark tubular piece at lower left houses a cellular SIM card slot with an access door on the dome’s bottom.

Managing the WebBoat is done with Android or iOS apps as illustrated in the main page video. Once set up there shouldn’t be much to do except scan for a new WiFi hotspot when you change harbors or force use of the cell connection if the WiFi gets flaky. But the original setup or changing SIM cards could be challenging and I encourage prospective buyers to check out the manual carefully. For instance, the correct APN (Access Point Name) has to be chosen by region and provider, and I’m not sure they’re all there. Also note that a prepaid SIM card with a PIN has to be unlocked in a phone before going into the WebBoat.

Once set up, though, — and note that the only cabling required is a 12 volt power feed — the WebBoat does seem as dreamy as this video capture suggests. It prioritizes the WiFi booster so that in harbor you may have a cheaper and possibly faster connection. But as you cruise out of WiFi range, WebBoat automatically switches over to the cell connection so you’re still blissfully sending off selfies (or checking the weather or keeping up with work email, or whatever :-).

The devil’s in the details, though, especially with technologies as fussy and dynamic as WiFi and Cellular hotspots on boats. That’s why I lean more toward the new all-in-one WiriePro even though its hardware looks, um, more utilitarian and it doesn’t auto switch between cellular and WiFi connections. That’s it in the yellow waterproof box at left, with its high power cell and WiFi antennas mounted externally. Also external is a waterproof Ubiquity Bullet M2 Titanium WiFi Adapter — latest and most ruggedly built in the Bullet line I’ve long appreciated. The company has also updated its WiFi-only WirieAP+ (at right) with Titanium and will soon have a cell-only Wirie xG.

Besides the high quality components, I like the look of Wirie’s browser-based management software. Note how the background screen above shows the status all three networks that an all-in-one like this enables. The inset cellular interface screen shows how the WiriePro lets you apply a PIN to a SIM card, and that’s not all…

The background screen in this collage shows how you can send SMS messages via the WiriePro interface, which is quite handy for adding credit to prepaid SIM cards. In fact, you can see that Wirie developer Mark Kilty has been doing just that, in French. The inset WiFi scan screen — which seems nicely simplified since I tested the original WirieAP in 2011 — also has a French Polynesian flavor, and that’s because the sailing development lab Irie has gone many miles, and done lots of Internet chasing, since I first profiled the product.

I appreciate the experience behind the new WiriePro all-in-one WiFi and cellular communicator, and also the company’s willingness to put their specs into the product comparison below. It may not be completely accurate — for instance, the WebBoat column probably needs updates for the new 4G model — but it’s a good place to start if you’re interested in the potential ease of having both offboard WiFi and cell connections working through one onboard WiFi router. I’ll add, though, that I just spent two months using separate WiFi and cell booster systems with pretty good results, and I’ll be expanding on that experience soon.

Click here to read comments about this Panbo entry, or add your own.

Podcast: Ted & Claudia Reshetiloff & Kids!

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-11-18 09:23

Welcome to the best episode yet…no joke. If you ever dreamed of leaving the corporate life and sailing off, on a tight bugdet and with a young family, listen to this episode. These are my friends Ted & Claudia Reshetiloff and their two kids, Max and Anya, 11 and 9. Mia and I joined them on ther boat, Demeter, a Wauquiez Amphitrite ketch in Nanny Cay Marina in Tortola to hear the story of how they left it all behind and headed out for adventure on the high seas and an entirely new lifestyle. They left Annapolis in 2012 and haven’t looked back since. Anya’s now in local school in Tortola, Ted works managing an outboard retail shop and they go sailing every weekend, taking longer stints off to head down island to Dominica and beyond. The voices you hear in the background are Mia (she makes her first podcast appearance!) and Paul Exner, who’s been on the show twice and also happens to live in Tortola. What a cool evening on Demeter. This is what long-term cruising is all about.

Writing feeds my cruising soul

Sail Feed - Mon, 2014-11-17 05:10

A few months ago, I kissed the back of an envelope for good luck before dropping it into a mailbox in Singapore. Tucked inside was a publishing contract with my signature on it. Although it’s been years since I had my first paycheck as a freelance writer, I’ve only now had confidence to fill in the “occupation” blank on forms with WRITER. So to have a fellow blogger, Kim from SV Britican, tap me to follow her post on a tour of writer’s blogs is the kind of request that makes me sit back with a smile of wonder and amazement. Thank you, Kim, for the recognition!

What am I currently working on?

I’m divided between three different types of writing projects. The immediately obvious one is this blog, an evolution I never anticipated when I started it more than seven (!) years ago. The second is freelance writing magazine articles, which I’ve been growing slowly, marketing nonfiction pieces to boating, travel, and lifestyle magazines. Most exciting for me right now: I’m working with two other cruising parents, Sara Johnson and Michael Robertson, on a guide to voyaging with kids to be published by L&L Pardey Books (pinch me!).

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

You can’t swing a cat o’ nine tails in an anchorage without hitting a cruiser with a blog. It’s not a bad thing… during our pre-cruising years I would have loved such a resource pool to draw dreams and practicalities from. Overwhelmingly, these blogs are the record of a journey. My goal is to inspire others to choose the adventurous path:  to offer a window into the life, balanced with practical information, speaking plain truth from our experiences.

As a freelance writer, it depends on where I’m pitching: for sailing and adventurous living, I seek to have an honest voice, one that people can relate to and travel with vicariously (so, how am I doing?!).  There is a more  mechanical side of freelancing where I’m less concerned about differentiation, and simply want to be a quality content provider that editors love working with.

Why do I write what I do?

Writing has always been a way for me to process experiences, and share what I learn. I’m in my eighth year of writing as a way to externally process our cruising life, yet it’s really only been the last couple of years I felt I’ve had the space, miles, and personal experiences to be able to pull back and offer a broader view.

I want to support people who have the dream of cruising: families in particular. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear back from readers who have been helped or encouraged by what I’ve shared. I need to write, and I love our lifestyle, and by doing both together I’m finding happiness I never had in my prior professional life.

How does my writing process work?

I believe that 90% of writing is just putting your bum in the chair and setting fingers to keys. That’s certainly the way it is for me, yet I also have a notebook and pen as near constant companions. Sometimes the inspiration just hits, and I want to be able to grab it! Even if it drives Jamie a little crazy, because actually- I don’t have a notebook. I have many notebooks, and tend to leave them scattered around, then wonder with mild frantic distraction why I can’t find the one I want when I need it.

Of course, there are times when our environment makes the fundamental butt-in-seat difficult. My workspace is a small desk in the aft (master) cabin, which is not always peaceful and sometimes downright chaotic. Like today, when there are a half dozen shipyard crew on board adding the background cacophony of power tools and hammering.

So I pack up a bag, and shift to a spot near the shipyard office wifi. This often means I have children of the crew acting as curious helpers, shown in “extra helpful” ode in the photo higher up. They are sweet kids, but kind of distracting. Here at PSS Satun, have the rare luxury of an air conditioned and usually quiet room.. Of course, it comes with another kind of distraction: KITTENS! If you follow our Facebook page, you know the girls have been taking care of a motherless litter found in the lumber piles.

I’d like to tap Diane Selkirk and Sara Johnson as the next stops on the writer’s blog tour.

Diane has been my writing doula. She has nudged me, encouraged me, and had faith that I didn’t have in myself  I’m not sure I’d be IN a “writer’s blog tour” without her support! Diane has interviewed astronauts and Olympians, learned about laying up fiberglass and making ukuleles, canoed down a northern fur trade river and spent time on a police boat looking for yacht thieves – all for the sake of a good story.

Sara is another sailor who loves to write. We share the home waters of Puget Sound, and traveled many of the same miles in North America and the South Pacific. She especially enjoys writing about sailboat cruising, traveling with children, and all other aspects of life afloat – and how she does it all while living with Type 1 diabetes.

Writer or reader, you know I love it when you click through to find this on the Sailfeed website.

Avanti & Corsair Take Top Honors at the 25th ARC Caribbean 1500 Prizegiving

Sail Feed - Sun, 2014-11-16 09:57

In the slowest year since 2011, with the last boat still at sea as we go to press – with nearly 100 miles yet to go – the ARC Caribbean 1500 prizegiving last night was more of a milestone than a final ceremony.

“I usually end this evening thanking everyone and scurrying off to bed!” said event manager Andy Schell at the conclusion of the awards. “But we’ve got four boats coming in tonight, so we’ll be on the docks with the cold rum punch until the last boat is tied up!”

Despite several boats still at sea when the awards got underway, it was a very festive atmosphere on the beachside deck at Nanny Cay Marina. Crews that had been sweaty and salty for nearly two weeks at sea showed up in their shoreside best, with matching crew shirts and tropical island colors. After the crowd gathered round the bar for a quick beer or rum punch, the awards got going in earnest just before 5pm, as the sun was disappearing behind the hillsides in the west, offering up a much needed respite from the brutal afternoon heat.

“Hoooorayy!” shouted the crowd, as just in time, Aviva made their way into the cut and into Nanny Cay Marina with the largest audience of any of the arrivals thus far. “There is indeed something about being one of the last boats to arrive,” said Dorothy of Aviva. “That was really special having everyone cheer for us like that!” Dorothy, Fred and crew made it up to the beach just in time to see the awards get underway.

As we always do at the 1500, we emphasize the fun and special prizes over the competitive awards, and the ceremony kicked off as such with prizes for Best Mustache, Best Logs, Best Fishing Story (won by Serenity for their very timely bribe of 4 pounds of fresh mahi for the Yellowshirts lunches!), Youngest Skipper and more. 

Both the Mustach Award and the Best Bruise Award required audience participation. Three of the lady sailors came on stage to show off their best bruises, whereby the crowd cheered for a winner. It was no contest, as Cricket from Corsair easily garnered the biggest applause when she dropped her shorts right on stage and showed off a palm-sized bruise on her rip hip.

There were even more contestants for the Mustache Award. Rowena from the local BVI Movember (“Mustache November”) chapter was invited on stage to introduce Movember and start the competition.

“Each year the BVI participates in Movember to raise money for men’s health issues, namely prostate cancer,” she began. “Last year we raised a total of over $24,000, which goes directly to a few locals that are afflicted with the disease and require ongoing care. So thank you all very much for participating in what is a very fun, very important initiative for us in the BVI.

Despite arriving late to the contest and nearly missing the chance to show off his ‘stache (and this after he’d been complaining about how uncomfortable it had become), Levent from Adagio easily took the loudest applause and won a goody bag of Movember branded t-shirts and beer cozies. All the men who participated, included Rally staff Andy & Jake, lined up on the beach for a group mustache photo.

Lucky Strike, ironically considering their name, received the #13 banner that nobody seemed to want back in Portsmouth. Because of a very sick crewmember, they were forced to divert to Puerto Rico for medical help (he’s fine now, recovering in Michigan). Each crew at the party last night signed the banner in honor of Fred and is crew, and it will be mailed off to Lucky Strike next week, a reminder that despite their diversion, they were not alone.

Each boat also received a custom engraved plaque from Weems & Plath for participating in the rally, and was recognized on stage for finishing the event.

“You’re all winners to us!” exclaimed yellowshirt Mia from the stage, who was busy taking photos of each crew as they accepted their awards.

Later in the evening the competitive awards were distributed, with Avanti, Opportunity & Southern Cross taking home first place for Classes A, B and Multihulls respectively. Opportunity, despite taking 12 days to finish the course, is only starting on their longer journey. From the Caribbean, they are bound for the Panama Canal and the Pacific, and are in the process of taking the boat Down Under to Australia.

Before the night was out, the biggest awards were given, starting with a new perpetual trophy for 2014. Miles Poor, of rally sponsor MRP Refits, was called on stage to describe the new Hal Sutphen Seamanship Trophy, which, alongside the Tempest Trophy for Spirit of the Rally, will remain in Nanny Cay.

“Hal, along with rally founder Steve Black, was integral in promoting proper seamanship,” Miles began, “which starts long before you ever head to sea. When Hal died, his wife suggested we make an award in his honor, so we started with this silver cup in 2006. It will go to the yacht that sets the best example of seamanship in the rally.”

Though they weren’t present to accept it (they were still at sea), La Madeline took the honor for their incredibly detailed prepartions back in Portsmouth. Both safety inspectors Lyall Burgess and Peter Burch agreed that they were far and away the most well prepared. Each crewmember, in turn, had done live MOB drills, and they had detailed diagrams of each stowage space on the boat, fantastic use of safety equipment and more. They set the bar high for the safety checks in rallies to come.

Avanti was then called back on the stage to accept the Steve Black Trophy for winning the Overall Cruising Division, correcting ahead of all Class A and B yachts. The award was a little more meaningful this year, both because it’s the 25th running of the rally, but also because Steve Black passed away in February. The award has always bared his name, as Steve was a keen racing sailor in his heyday, and loved the friendly competition of the rally.

Finally, Avanti remained on stage to present the Tempest Trophy for Spirit of the Rally, as winner of it themselves in 2012 for guiding several yachts through a severe lightning storm in the Gulf Stream. 2014 was a fairly mild year weather wise, and an uneventful one at sea, with no boats really requiring the assistance of another. That being the case, the Tempest Trophy this year was awarded to Corsair, for their general enthusiasm since Day 1 in Portsmouth.

“On the first Monday in Portsmouth, when everyone else was tearing their boats apart to get ready to put to sea, I found Tom and his crew sitting in the cockpit listening to music and drinking wine,” said Andy Schell. “These guys were on it from the start. They were ready to go a month ahead of time, went to every function, were always smiling, and just set the best example of what it takes to participate in this event. They are very deserving of the award.”

Corsair’s name will be engraved on the Tempest Trophy beneath Avanti and Moonshadow’s from the previous two years, and it will remain in Peg Leg’s restaurant until next year. 

As of Sunday morning, only 2 yachts remained at sea, and are expected to arrive today and tomorrow (La Madeline and Amphitrite). Earlier this morning, Moonshadow, Chanticleer and Mystic Shadow arrived into Nanny Cay, with the dogs Maya and Rex on Mystic Shadow easily the happiest to be here. There will be a late-arrivals dinner on Monday night at the beach, where their awards will be distributed. That will officially mark the close of the 25th Caribbean 1500.

For the full results of each competitive class, click here.

Mega AV: UMSI installs KVH IP MultiCast, Crestron & much more

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-11-14 13:00

Written by Ben Ellison on Nov 14, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Whoever buys Island Heiress will get an amazing audio video system. The 1996 Cheoy Lee has gone through a massive refit — notice how much the satellite domes have changed from the original configuration — including a $250,000 custom entertainment system put together by Unlimited Marine Services Inc. (UMSI). You can be at any one of eight large Samsung LED HDTV screens using an iPad to choose from DirectTV, Apple TV, boat cameras, navigation screens, and the world’s first install of a KVH IP MobileCast superyacht package. In Fort Lauderdale I got to see some of the phenomenal complexity behind the AV goodness and even picked up some equipment tips possibly relevant to more modest vessels…

Here’s the iPad dedicated to controlling the speakers and TV in the sky lounge of Island Heiress. The security keypad is covering up some of the Crestron interface, but you can see the main video source categories along the top. During the demo this remote looked easy to use and switching sources was lightning fast. I was impressed with the LaunchPort case and mount system. Magnets in the case secure the iPad firmly to the mount where it is also charged inductively, and UMSI president James Porreca confirmed that it’s a complete winner on a boat.

What a rack! Actually the massive hardware complexity behind the simple iPad screens is housed in two racks, and I was glad to see them in the final install stage before the temporary tracks were stowed and veneer panels obscure goodies, like that Crestron 32×32 DigitalMedia Switcher showing eight of its cooling fans at lower left. Compare the backside of the switch shown on the Crestron page with your own AV system and be awed at what the UMSI install team had to do.

The DM-MD32X32 switch, able to manage 32 AV inputs and outputs of most any type, is arguably the heart of the system, as suggested in this diagram (even if the larger image you can click to see is still only 25% of the original). Now contemplate some of the inputs…

Seen in the left rack are 11 DirectTV USA receivers, 11 more for the same company’s Galaxy Latin America service plus 11 KVH IP MultiCast players and 6 Apple TVs. At top right are the controllers for the KVH Tracvision HD7 that’s bringing in the DirectTV and the matching KVH mini-VSAT TracPhone V7-IP antenna that supplies the boat with MultiCast content as well as high-speed internet and phone service. Next down is the KVH Media Server that automatically collects content when the VSAT connection isn’t otherwise in use — that’s the bandwidth efficiency behind MultiCast — and then a bunch more Crestron gear like a PRO3 Control and a Digital Graphics Engine. There are also 30 Crestron Aspire speakers now built into the yacht, plus some amps and an elaborate iPod dock.

James Porreca is proud that UMSI has an expert Crestron programmer on staff and also about how neatly his team runs wires. Consider, for instance, how many little IR remote extenders are hidden away in these racks so that no conventional remote ever has to be pointed at any of those media players. In the photo above we’re just seeing the major Ethernet, HDMI, coax and power cabling, though it also shows the neat hinging feature that goes with the rack roll-out track system.

Here’s a matrix of Island Heiress onboard cameras showing on the sky lounge TV (sort of like Raymarine’s new quad view). The install is not yet finished — more cameras and maybe position labels are coming — but you can see little yellow “running man” icons indicating that some of the video streams have motion detection turned on. It’s like the security system in a large institution, only available anywhere on the boat.

But the big AV system is mostly about content from shore and this IP MultiCast screen suggests how specific that can be. Besides offering fairly new movies and TV programs from around the world, there’s also TV and print news in several languages. And remember that MultiCast is going to work in places where DirectTV doesn’t and will still serve stored programming even when you lose mini VSAT coverage. But I’m told that there are restrictions on who can use MultiCast due to the content licensing — the yacht has to be set up as a commercial charter operation, I think. Inmarsat, incidentally, now has a Fleet Media service that similarly uses waste bandwidth to stock a media server, but it’s definitely oriented to commercial vessels, and I think it only streams to tablets and phones (which MultiCast can also do).

Finally, I got a peek at the Island Heiress bridge where the four 23-inch Hatteland displays were showing the output of a FLIR thermal camera and a Furuno NavNet 3D blackbox, plus the onboard camera matrix and a MuliCast movie. When finished, one of the touchscreens will also serve as the controller for TSAT — another UMSI/Crestron specialty I’ve written about — so the crew can arrange radar, plotter, camera and entertainment windows by flicking them around the bridge displays. Most of us will never consider an AV or navigation system like what’s on Island Heiress, but if you’re setting up a truly high-end WiFi network you might consider the Packedge routers and Ruckus access point system that UMSI favors. These guys seem to know their stuff.

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Lest We Forget: The Carib 1500 Crews Who Won’t Make it to Tortola This Year

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-11-14 09:32

Nothing ever bad happens in the rally, right? If you read the daily news stories over the years, you’d certainly think so. But despite what I sometimes think of as the ‘propaganda’ that we post in the news and features during the 1500 (and I’m myself responsible for producing it), I feel we ought to focus at least occasionally on some of the more unfortunate realities of ocean sailing. Namely, not everyone is, or will be, partying in the Virgin Islands when this thing is all said and done.

And I’m not talking about maritime disasters here. Since I’ve been involved with the 1500, I’m happy to say that we’ve had no major mishaps aside from some bumps and bruises and a dislocated shoulder last year. No sinkings or abandonments, no dismastings, just the normal ‘wear and tear’ that an ocean passage puts on a sailboat (knock on wood – believe me, I know how much luck is involved in that, especially with a large fleet of boats. Put me on a boat and I’m pretty confident we’ll get there. But with this fleet, it’s mostly out of my hands). But nevertheless, each year, there are always one or two boats that will fall by the wayside and ultimately be forgotten by the fleet that makes it safely to Tortola. And that’s the focus of today’s news item.

Before the fleet even left the dock, we had our first dropout. Rockhopper, a Morgan 45, was forced to drop out of the fleet for medical reasons. It was heartbreaking hearing the news from Frank and Suzanne, knowing that this was a dream of theirs as well. They’re two little doggies, Oz and Jonesy, provided some comfort with their constant yapping and smiling, but the news was still difficult to swallow. 

I can personally attest to their feelings, a little bit anyway. My dad took his boat, Sojourner, offshore to the Caribbean last year with the 1500, but he was one crewmember short. He and my mom had bought their boat, a Wauquiez Hood 38, in 2009, and had planned to cruise on it long-term over the following few years. Instead, mom got brain cancer and died in 2012. My dad stuck to his plans though, and with a heavy heart, headed offshore anyway last year, and again this year, leading the ARC Bahamas fleet to Marsh Harbor.

My dad wasn’t alone in that endeavor either. Without naming names, at least three other boats in the 1500 fleet this year are in similar situations, dreams altered with the loss of loved ones, but continued nonetheless. 

Thankfully for Rockhopper, Frank and Suzanne still have each other, and will continue cruising, just a little closer to shore. When we left them at Ocean Marine Yacht Center in Portsmouth, they were planning to cruise south on the ICW, remain close to medical care, and take their trip a day at a time. We wish them the best.

Shortly after the rally start, the fleet lost Heart’s Desire, a Pacific Seacraft 37. Though it ended well for John and his crew, it was a scary start for Rally Control. I got a phone call from the US Coast Guard while we were back in Pennsylvania, who said that one of our boat’s had issued a Pan Pan. After the initial shock wore off from the USCG call, I had to smirk to myself over the Pan Pan call. Mario Vittone, ex-USCG rescue swimmer, who had spoken during the seminar program in Portsmouth, had highlighted the usefulness of a Pan Pan.

“Nobody that I can recall ever required a rescue after issuing a Pan Pan,” he’d said. “A Pan Pan let’s us know that you’ve got a small issue on board but are working on it. As soon as it turns into a bigger issue, we know exactly where you are and what’s up, and can come and help. But usually, the folks responsible enough to call Pan Pan, end up working the issue out on their own.”

That’s exactly what John and his crew did. They had a minor engine issue, and managed to sail back to Virginia Beach without outside assistance.

“Turns out it was a very simple fix,” John told me on the phone once they were back on shore. “Almost so easy I’m embarrassed to even talk about it! The problem was, I was the only one onboard capable of fixing it, and I was too seasick to go below.”

John took the conservative route and headed back home safely. Last we spoke, he had gotten help from Trudy, our wonderful volunteer in Hampton, who rustled up some crew and helped John take Heart’s Desire to the marina for winter storage. He’s planning on following Rockhopped down the ICW and might make a run offshore to the Bahamas in early December once he gets a bit further down the coast.

Earlier this morning I spoke with Fred Ball, builder, owner and skipper of the Newick 50 trimaran Lucky Strike. They’d made it safely to Puerto Rico and Fred was about to board a flight to Miami while the friends he’d made in Portsmouth were enjoying a seminar on cruising the BVI.

“I’ve never been on a boat with someone that sick before,” Fred told me. “One of our crew, it turned out, had viral bronchitis. He was a little stuffy before the trip started, but figured it was just a cold and he’d get better. He didn’t.”

Fred said that this crewmember was so sick that he thought about the worst on a few occasions. They decided early on that with the upwind conditions, their quickest way to medical help would be to crack the sheets and aim for Peurto Rico, where they’d also conveniently be back in the USA and closer, in theory, to the American health system.

“We rolled him off the boat and got him into a hotel room the day we arrived,” Fred continued, “and immediately put him on an oxygen tank. He was on a plane the next day and is now back in Michigan in the hospital undergoing treatment. He’s getting better, which is good.”

It had to have been a brutal decision for Fred. This trip has been a longtime dream of his, and to abandon it only halfway through the passage had to hurt emotionally. Fred actually built the boat back in Michigan and had sailed it on the Great Lakes for it’s entire life. He’s getting a bit older now, and this Caribbean foray was to be a swan song of sorts. let the boat stretch it’s legs offshore, do the Caribbean racing circuit, maybe even cross the Atlantic to France, where multihulls are king. After all, he’d sailed Lucky Strike to victory in all the major Great Lakes races, so he had nothing left to prove back home.

But his trip’s not over yet.

“I’ll go back to Miami to be with Pam tomorrow,” Fred told me. “And the boatyard here is working on the engine and fixing a few minor issues. The boat did great. Aside from it being upwind and a little wet on deck, we had a great sail. I’ll be back soon enough and we’ll sail her over to Virgin Gorda where she’ll stay at the Bitter End for a while, and I’ll get back down here over the winter.”

Despite the situation, which appeared dire at times, Fred remains optimistic. Here’s to hoping he makes it. We owe you a rum punch, Fred!

So as the fleet continues to arrive in sunny Tortola, we in the rally office are making a point to think about the boats and crews who won’t make it here, who’s dreams of sailing over the horizon were put on hold, at least for a little while. With luck, we’ll see them down the line and will always be happy to lend a helping hand.

Podcast: Across the North Sea, Part 2

Sail Feed - Fri, 2014-11-14 00:00

This is Part 2 of Andy & Mia’s last big offshore passage on Arcturus from 2012, when they sailed direct to Sweden from Scotland. If you missed Part 1, it was last Friday’s episode, so you’ll want to hear these in order.

Curse of the Dried Beans

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-11-13 22:54

I’m a fan of tinned beans. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve mentioned tinned beans on this blog more than any other food. Mostly because dried beans hate me. That’s life. But I have a two-part problem: a) they don’t sell tinned beans here, and b) I like to cook with beans. This leaves me with the dried bean option.

I like hummus, and they don’t sell that here, either. So I broke down and bought a bag of chickpeas. Every few days I would think about making hummus. I’d look at the chickpeas in their plastic package, and recall they had to be soaked overnight. “Oh, well, it is only one o’clock; I’ll do that later.” And then forget.

Last night I pulled myself together. I ripped open the package, tossed the chickpeas in a bowl, and covered them with water.
“Let’s give this a try, okay little chickpeas?” My track record is not good. I was reasonably certain the chickpeas would be green and disgusting by morning.
The sun came up, and all looked well in the bowl. I checked the directions: bring to a boil, then simmer 20-30 minutes.
Which I did. And they softened. And by 30 minutes in, they actually tasted pretty good. I was feeling quite pleased with myself until I dropped one down my shirt. (Note to the ladies: do not get hot chickpeas stuck in your bra. It really hurts, and is too embarrassing to relate to anyone except strangers on the internet.)

I drained the chickpeas and smiled at them in the colander. Well done, Amy, you master chef, you! But something was niggling at me. I picked up the colander and peered at my peas. One, two, three… there have to be six cups of cooked chickpeas in there. How many cups do I need? One. One cup.

I guess you aren’t supposed to reconstitute the whole bag at once. Does anyone know if you can freeze hummus? I’ll be over by the blender, peeling a million gloves of garlic.

Distributed Power Systems on an Average Cruising Boat: I say no!

Sail Feed - Thu, 2014-11-13 16:20

Distributed power systems (or digital switching systems, or smart power systems, or intelligent, or multiplexing power systems…the industry is still settling on a name) are going into many new boats. I have a friend in the luxury power boat business, and he says distributed power systems save thousands of dollars, and reduce weight by hundreds of pounds, on every build. For builders it’s definitely the way to go for shipboard electrical systems. But is it right for owners?

If you’re not up on these systems, here’s what they do: Take the bow of your boat, where you might have some navigation lights, a windlass, a couple of reading lights in the forepeak, and a fan over the bunk. In a conventional installation you’d have a big set of cables running up to that windlass, a pair of wires to serve the nav lights, a pair to serve the fan, and a pair to serve the reading lights, but lights are often wired in parallel so that a pair of wires serves several cabin lights. In this conventional system, each circuit would have its own switch and its own fuse or breaker.

In a distributed power system a single pair of cables would run to a central location in the bow and terminate in a node or remote controlled breaker module (again, the industry hasn’t settled on one name). From this node, wires would branch out to the windlass, the nav lights, the fan, and the reading lights, but each device would be turned on and off through computer wizardry. You’d still have on-off switches for your reading lights, but the switches would actuate a breaker/switch within the bow node. All of these devices could also be controlled from a central location aboard.

The advantage of such a system is that instead of running four sets of wires to the bow, you only run one pair of cables and a tiny set of signal wires. Multiply this effect throughout a large boat with a complicated electrical system and it reduces the amount of wiring, and the time to install it, by a lot…by hundreds of pounds of wire, my friend says.

If you want to get fancy with one of these systems, the sky’s the limit. You could have a program, served from the central location, called “Night Sailing.” You press the night sailing button and the nav lights come on, the wind instruments, the electronics, and some very dim red footlights in the main cabin. You could have another program called “party time,” another called “night motoring” (add the steaming light), and one called “at anchor.” The system could tell you when a bulb blew out, or when something was consuming more power than normal, or when a bilge pump was running more than it should, or how cold it is in your freezer.

Manufacturers include Carling, with its Octoplex platform, Swedish company EmpirBus, and Capi2, just to name a few. Ben Ellison has written extensively on the subject on Panbo.

The problem with these systems, or the potential problem, is summed up in one word: Computer. There’s that saying about how to err is human, but to really screw things up it takes a computer, and I think I’d rather not have a computer controlling the juice to my shipboard electronics when I’m trying to thread the needle between a couple of ice bergs in shallow water to get into a tight anchorage before the storm blows in: “Oh yeah, no big deal, just have to re-boot the system and it’ll be fine. Oh wait, it seems to be hanging up. Let’s try de-powering it completely then re-install the configuration file…” You get the idea.

As I’ve said before, marine electricians and marine electronics experts (except those who make distributed electrical systems) seem more apt to quail at the mention of anything “networked,” be it the boat’s whole power system or just the electronics. We like things simple and field repairable.

Hallberg-Rassy uses the EmpirBus system on all of their new builds. The pages in the owner’s manual (section starts on page 20) that refer to the “state of the art distributed power system” scare me out of the whole idea: the recommended spares, troubleshooting, and contacting the EmpirBus dealer in say, Palau. With a conventional electrical system you could get away with a spares kit consisting of spare fuses/breaker, some wire, and some crimp-on lugs and connectors…and any marine electrician, anywhere in the world, could repair your system.

Manufacturers claim these systems are fairly dependable, but bugs, interoperability issues, and vendor reliability are always at play with any technology.

Still, the technology is probably too good to pass up on new builds for larger boats. Distributed power systems have been used on aircraft for decades and very few seem to fall out of the sky. Commercial aircraft have thousands of circuits, and some of these newer yachts may come close, but on an average cruising boat I draw the line. I’m saying there’s a sweet spot – somewhere – and below that it’s just not worth it.

I counted all the circuits on my 40-foot cruising boat, and I’ve got most of the gadgets. Forty circuits. All the lights, all the pumps, all the electronics, all the blowers and fans, and it adds up to forty different electricity-consuming devices. Forty circuits just doesn’t add up to enough complexity to warrant a distributed power system, in my book.

And here’s a second reason to ponder: LED lights. I’ve only changed a few of my shipboard lights to LEDs, but over time, as the old fixtures fail or get uglier, I’ll eventually switch all of my lights to LEDs. LED lights use less power, produce less heat, and thus use smaller wires. If one of the main goals of distributed power is to reduce wire weight, LED lights accomplish much of this same end when you consider that the majority of your onboard circuits service various lights. (Of the forty devices on my boat, half are lights.)

The current ABYC standard says that 16 gauge is the smallest wire you can use aboard a recreational yacht, unless it’s strictly a signal wire. Sixteen gauge is overkill for most LED lights. The pigtails coming off some new LED light fixtures are 20 gauge, maybe 22 (this is very small, like the size of a strand of dental floss). Point being, with wire this small, even at 18 or 16 gauge, you can serve all the lighting needs of an average cruising boat and the weight and complexity will be negligible. The wires feeding LED lights won’t be much bigger than the signal wires in a distributed power system. In other words, with or without distributed power systems, the wiring looms on the boats of the future will be much smaller anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for distributed power systems in the marine world, and there’s no stopping progress, but I think it’s overkill and overcomplicating things for the average cruising boat. By average I mean a boat about like mine with something like forty circuits, and by cruising boat I mean likely to be in a place where parts and expertise may be months away.

One Fleet, Two Very Different Stories

Sail Feed - Wed, 2014-11-12 13:28

Falcon, the 80’ Cookson, did the expected and beat the rest of the fleet to the BVI. The ex-America’s Cup training vessel, now a tricked out cruising yacht, sailed the course in just over seven days, arriving Monday night around 9pm.

“We had the perfect passage,” said the yacht’s owner Cary St. Onge. Never more than 10-15 knots of wind, close reaching or close-hauled. Falcon does great in those conditions.”

“Any hobby horsing?” asked Ron Horton of Lone Star, the third boat to arrive almost 24 hours after Falcon, on Tuesday afternoon.

“None at all!” answered skipper Ryan St. Onge, Cary’s son. “No, we’re long enough and narrow enough that we just slice through the waves,” he added.

Rosemary, Matt & Bill of Crazy Horse, all circumnavigators

Crazy Horse, who recently circumnavigated with World ARC, was the second boat to arrive. Rosemary Thomas was quick to remind Lone Star who won.

“Crazy Horse defeats Lone Star – the Indians finally beat the Cowboys!” she exclaimed, as she helped Lone Star tie up to the dock. 

As I write this, this eighth boat is making her way into Nanny Cay Marina. Winedown called us a short while ago as the yellowshirts were having lunch, very excited to have completed the passage south.

“Winedown, this is Rally Control. You’re loud and clear on channel 72. Proceed into the marina and towards slip B One Six. We’ll see you on the docks shortly with your cold rum punch!”

“Make that a double!” exclaimed skipper Dale over the VHF.

Besides the three early arrivals, until early this morning it’s been awful quiet in the marina. The yellowshirt team has been on island since Friday. However, due to the one-day delayed start (which, in fact, was two days later than in 2012 and 2013), the fleet started arriving later than usual, and we had several days to get caught up and actually enjoy some of the amenities of Nanny Cay Marina. Yesterday was spent playing volleyball on the beach and swimming in the ocean.

But it’s not all fun and games. In fact, the quietness inside the marina is not a good sign for us rally staff. While on the surface it’s provided us with some rare free time, we know it’s only really delaying the inevitable rush of arrivals later this week, which will also force a re-arranging of the arrivals program. But no worries – we’re on island time!

Lyall, Jake and Andy showing off their ‘staches for Movember!

The other reason for the later arrivals is of course the weather. If you’ve followed the blogs that the boats are sending in from at sea, as well as our frequent Facebook posts from here in Nanny Cay, you’d have seen that the weather is not exactly favorable, especially for the smaller, slower boats towards the back of the fleet. A contrary wind has been blowing from the southeast for days now, severely slowing the progress of the fleet and reminding anyone watching from home why the traditional sailing directions say GO EAST! while you have the chance. Certainly some of the fleet would wish for a mulligan on the first half of their trip south to do just that.

Lone Star crew is nicely dressed as they make their arrival on Tuesday

As it is, they’ll just have to do their best to find the favorable tack and make their way south. Some of the smaller boats, like the sister ship Vancouver 42’s Moonshadow and Mystic Shadow, still have over 400 miles of ocean between them and Tortola. And with a VMG of only around 3 knots, that’s a lot of hours remaining on the water.

“After 8 days of sailing only 350 miles left to go!” wrote Opportunity, one of the smaller boats, a Corbin 39, bringing up the rear of the fleet. “But only if we sail in a straight line, and not the zigzag upwind path of the last couple of days. The winds have been light to moderate and just lately we have been enjoying a stiff 20 knot breeze, all from the southeast, with lumpy seas, so not the best conditions for getting anywhere fast.”

Regardless of the time they’ve got left, they certainly seem to be enjoying themselves.

“Every day has been sunny and warm and every night softly moonlit, we have fresh mahi-mahi on the menu thanks to Duncan, and even caught a few squalls today to rinse away some of the salt from the boat and ourselves! We have sea and sky all around and haven’t seen another boat in about three days. All in all a great week of sailing!”

I will readily admit that it is a big relief to me to hear such positive thoughts from the crews at sea. One of the hardest things to do as rally organizer is to remain ashore as I send the fleet off into the wilderness. I’d love nothing more than to be there with them, to lead from the front so to speak, and take my lumps with everyone else. As it were, there’s just too much work to do ashore, especially communications wise. At any rate, I sympathize with them, but still feel like, on a trip like this, it’s as much about the sailing and about being on the ocean as it is about getting here. I’ll take the mid-Atlantic on a sailing boat over Nanny Cay Marina any day of the week. And I mean that.

The arrival programs kicks off in earnest tonight with the first happy hour at the Beach Bar just before sunset. Club Carp, who arrived earlier today, have already familiarized themselves with the place earlier today, sampling the local libations over a much-deserved cooked lunch at the bar. We expect another half-dozen boats between now and noon tomorrow. 

Follow the hourly updates on the Caribbean 1500 Facebook page at facebook.com/carib1500.

Signal K, a true game changer?

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-11-11 20:00

Written by Bill Bishop on Nov 11, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

I see a lot of marine electronics and I’m hard to impress. There’s a lot of the new, faster, bigger and brighter appearing every year. However I get very enthused when I see real innovation appear. CHIRP sounder technology and WiFi enabled chart plotters are a couple of excellent examples. But now there is Signal K, and I’m really excited. This is potentially a game changer on a grand scale, and I’ll attempt to explain what’s happening and its long term implications for your boat.

Signal K is a universal data model that allows data and information about your boat, and other boats both locally and across the globe, to be easily shared. It speaks the language smart phones, tablets and the wireless Internet understand in our now much more connected world. This capability has not existed in any meaningful way before, and now it’s quicky becoming a reality.

The possibilities are nearly endless. Since Signal K can make all your boat’s data available in a consistent Internet-friendly open source format, developers worldwide would be free to create applications for your boat. This is because Signal K’s communication format makes it much simpler to access and use your boat’s information, especially for mobile devices and cloud based servers.

There are security levels to control this access, but if you allowed it, a marina could sense your boat and automatically send you docking information. Crowd sourcing of data such as water depths can be automatic. You could see not only your depth, but the depth of the boat in front of you. Sharing of your waypoints, POI’s, and even the yacht club trip route becomes simple. Check in on your boat from anywhere in the world or be notified by email if problems arise. It may seem incredible, but this is part of Signal K’s overall vision and it’s much closer to reality than you might believe. Your boat’s WiFi antenna will become in many ways as important to you as its VHF antenna.

In order to understand what Signal K is about, we have to take a look at what capabilities our boats currently have for dealing with information. Instruments and sensors gather data and typically send it to other devices using the NMEA 0183 or newer NMEA 2000 formats. NMEA data is collected, packaged and transmitted in related groups. For example the NMEA 2000 engine parameters PGN 127489 contains things like oil pressure, voltage, and also has a large number of status indicators such as “water in fuel” alarm status and others.

Your chartplotter’s software takes this data, sorts it out and displays the information on its dedicated data pages for you. It works well and nobody argues with this….. unless you want to use a mobile device and/or the Internet to easily see your boat’s data. Wouldn’t you like the limited number of wireless marine apps that are now available to do much more?

The crux of the issue is that NMEA’s communication formats understandably did not foresee the exponential growth of both the Internet and wireless communications. NMEA 2000 made its first appearance in 2001. There was virtually no wireless Internet access. Tablets and smart phones didn’t exist either. In 2014 alone over $200 billion of these smart computing devices will end up in consumer hands.

In a world where there should be hundreds of mobile apps that use your boat’s data, there are only a few. You can buy black boxes that will transmit NMEA 0183 and 2000 data wirelessly, but the manufacturers tend to use different formats and offer different subsets of the data available. This makes it difficult for app developers. They can’t just write one app and have it apply to all boats, but instead have to add individual support for different module types. Fiscal incentives for both the app developers and the gateway developers is quashed by the inherently small and fractured market. These problems can all be solved by Signal K in a very clever and unique way.

Signal K by itself isn’t designed to replace your existing navigation system. Instead it augments your boat’s potential and provides the tools developers need to create meaningful apps for your vessel with secure connections to the outside world.

Signal K is a system that takes NMEA and many other types of data and places it into a consistent and predictable data model (a schema). Think of the Web — every page has a different and unique URL. The same URL always takes you to the same page, although the content may differ second by second. Some are available permanently, some are not. Some are restricted, some are public. And most importantly you can access them from any device. Signal K applies the same concepts to your boat’s data. It defines a consistent and predictable “URL” for each individual data item.

The typical data elements shown in the schema sample all have a similar format. The information in the schema is human readable, making is easier for app programmers to access it. In the example shown it’s “headingMagnetic.” Value means this is a number and it’s currently 43 degrees. The source of the the data in this context is “self” meaning it’s comes from your boat, and “time stamp” is when the data was received by the schema so we know how fresh, or old, the data is.

The schema also stores other things important to you. Information about AIS targets, charts, routes, tides, waypoints, VHF/HF call signs, MMSI numbers, alarm set-points, cruising notes, names of crew members and much more. As the schema continues to grow, existing data types keep their original URLs, and new information types such as your sailboat’s polar data get new and unique URLs. This allows Signal K applications to keep working despite the inevitable new additions to the schema as it grows.

Arduinos can interface too

Open source hardware such as Arduinos create the opportunity to capture data and/or to manage NMEA as never anticipated. For example Signal K already has a seawater salinity data element in its schema. Arduino’s can sense this along with many other monitoring possibilities such as engine room or freezer temperatures. Lighting control with motion sensors, audio alarms like “Warning bilge high water!” and more are possible by integrating Ardunios into a Signal K based system. The Freeboard Project is completing software to allow Arduino’s to directly communicate with Signal K.

Arduinos are small, powerful and very inexpensive ($60.00) computers used to deal with the physical word. They have many inputs and outputs both digital and analog. An example of a current Arduino boating application is Jack Edward’s very successful and home-built autopilot system, which I wrote about here.

The open source Freeboard system uses Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s to create a browser-based navigation system that uses Signal K. As part of that effort Freeboard has developed a set of specialized interface boards to aid in connecting Arduinos to your boat and Signal K. There are connections for a GPS, Peet Bros wind instrument and a water speed paddle wheel sensors along with basic autopilot functionality (a work in progress). The Freeboard Project is now rapidly approaching turnkey status. You can learn more about the Freeboard Project here.

So where is this all going? Signal K may lead toward a world where your boat’s displays are commodity items like tablets and smart phones. You select your functionality in the same way you select apps for your cellphone. Add new capabilities like crowd-sourced cruising notes. If a 15″ waterproof sunlight viewable tablet appears, just secure it to the helm, and history suggests they will appear. Waterproof cellphones (Samsung S5) are now readily available. It’s clear Signal K has game changing potential for both recreational, and commercial boating. Nothing else like it exists in a developer friendly format to accomplish this.

Navguage is an example of an open source project that has pledged support for Signal K. Navgauge takes Signal K data and uses JavaScript and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) to created browser-based customizable displays for PCs, tablets and phones. You can see a demonstration page showing this capability online here.

The popular OpenCPN navigation PC based software is also planning to add Signal K functionality into their next major software revision and many others are now watching the system’s progress closely.

The project has come a long way in a very short period of time. Currently a basic reference server is operational. This is a type of software prototype design, to test against and ease continuing development. The basic hardware configuration on a boat will consist of a Signal K server running on a relatively inexpensive single board processor like a Raspberry Pi, a USB hub, and a WiFi router. The NMEA data inputs can come from NMEA 2000/0183 to USB gateways, and Ardunios if desired.

Signal K implementations like Navgauge, OpenCPN, the Freeboard Project, and others are all “Open Source” projects. Like other open source platforms, anyone who can help, including commercial developers, are welcomed and encouraged to participate. You can find information about how to do this at the Signal K website.

Signal K’s goal is to help your boat become more like an iPad. One reason the iPad became such a success was the way it provided a common platform that app developers worldwide could use. It’s the abundance of good apps that made the iPad such a runaway success, not just its hardware.

In Signal K’s world apps use all of your boat’s information, not just data from sensors. Social sharing and crowd sourcing becomes possible. Also viable would be apps that do long-term data monitoring and analysis or let you use your boat’s polar data in a race. Have you selected an avatar for your boat yet?

Bill Bishop is a professional marine electronics installer as well as creator of The Marine Installers Rant

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LIVE Podcast: Billy Cullen’s Gadgets

Sail Feed - Tue, 2014-11-11 00:10

Bill Cullen, accomplished offshore sailor and crewmember aboard Serenity in this year’s Caribbean 1500, guest-hosts the podcast to discuss his favorite gadgets for offshore sailing and down-island cruising. These are far from your ‘mission critical’ items that Andy is constantly harping on, but they’re fun, clever ideas for making the best of your time at sea. Bill has sailed in most parts of the world, and has a website called thebookofsail.com, where you can find examples to most of the gadgets he talks about today. This episode was recorded LIVE at the Caribbean 1500 seminar program in Portsmouth, VA.

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