Friday, July 31, 2015

Strangling the Cat

As I sit on Reboot across the water from a local bar I am reminded of the old advice to Princesses: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs if you want to marry a Prince." When one goes to an "open mike" night one expects that they will be subjected to a lot of terrible music. The hope is that one or two of the acts will actually be good enough to make up for the bad. This is rarely the case but as Alexander Pope said in An Essay on Man: "Hope springs eternal... " On the other hand when when goes to a bar with a paid band one expects (no, let me rephrase that, I expect) that the music would be decent. Or at least tolerable. What I am listening to does not make the cut. And people applaud. Is this like those who tip waiters for miserable service? I guess so.

Fair winds and followings seas :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Solomons Yachting Center

Solomons Yachting Center
I left Cambridge after fueling up and getting fuel for the dinghy. There was quite a bit more fuel in the dinghy fuel tank than I had thought. But it was nice to add about 60% new fuel - the stuff in the tank was getting pretty old.

The first part of the trip was uneventful but warm. There was absolutely no wind and the water was as flat as can be. I made it out into the Chesapeake Bay motoring at a fuel conserving 5 knots. In the process I was passed by Moondance, another of the boats (a Catalina 445) that had been at the Sailnet rendezvous.

As I headed down the Bay things started to pick up. By the time I was on a beam to Solomon Island the winds were 10 to 15 and the waves 2 to 3 feet both in my face. I had slowed down considerably. At that point I said to myself why am I fighting adverse winds and waves. I don't really need to get back to Norfolk any time soon. I headed into the Patuxent River and eventually made my way to the Solomons Yacht Center. I considered going into NAS Pax but decided that I didn't want to be several miles from anything for several days with no car.

The Yachting Center has older fixed docks. It sits on a point with docks on both sides. It was a bit confusing when I came in just exactly where the marina was located. The fuel dock is very easy to get to and close to the entrance to Back Creek. The people are nice, the facilities older but clean, and Happy Hour features $1.00 drafts! Not bad. This morning I moved from the T-head to a slip and decided based on the weather forecast to sign up for a month. In the US transient fees are very high compared to monthly rates. For example break even here is 6 nights. In Europe it is usually 24 or 25 days to break even. With the foretasted winds from the South for at least the next 3 days it made sense to sign up for a month. I now have a mid-Chesapeake Bay base for the next month.

Fair winds and following seas :)

Do you really know what time it is? (part 2)

Further my discovering that my Raymarine GPS thought it was 1995 (it didn't even get to party like it was 1999!) Part 1 (background) is here:

I did some playing around and discovered that:

1) The source of the GPS data is of course the GPS receiver head, or "mushroom." Mine was circa 1995 (the year Reboot was built.) This particular "mushroom" came in both a Seatalk (tm) and NMEA version. Mine is the Seatalk (tm) version. It happens that it was the only instrument on this particular Seatalk (tm) bus connected directly to the autopilot. The GPS display head was on a second Seatalk (tm) bus that also communicates to the Raymarine autopilot control head.

ST 50 era GPS display
2) When I disconnected the "mushroom" Seatalk (tm) lead from the autopilot computer the GPS head at the helm started reading out the correct date and other data. So Raymarine at least bridged the Seatalk (tm) and NMEA data in the autopilot computer for GPS data. They have a habit of dropping NMEA sentences between NMEA "In" and "Out", one of the reasons I hate them.

3) The autopilot control display immediately started displaying the same information that appeared on the Garmin Multifunction displays (5212 & 5012.) They had always been slightly out of sync. I had just written it off to a network interfacing issue. Now I know that the autopilot computer was getting the wrong data from the GPS mushroom. Obviously it was using that data as the "preferred" data. Since the Seatalk (tm) bus for the mushroom was powered by the autopilot computer I never saw the condition without the GPS mushroom providing data until I actually disconnected ti electrically.

4) I have posted this on the Raymarine web site. We will see what they say.

5) Sort of a post script: I realized yesterday that the last time I swung the compass I was using the wrong GPS data. I was considering re calibrating yesterday (there was no wind and the water was flat) but I was in a hurry to get to Norfolk (yup, that worked, nope) so I passed on the opportunity. It will be interesting to see what happens when I do the re calibration.

Fair winds and following seas :)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cambridge Md, Sailnet Rendevous

Lighthouse at entrance to Marina
I motored up from Virginia Beach to Cambridge, MD for the first Sailnet ( rendezvous. I arrived later on Thursday night and anchored out. Since the party was Saturday night I decided to forgo paying marina fees for several nights.

All worked out well, I felt "back in the saddle again." Launched the dinghy, explored the harbor, watched them set up for the classic boat races to be held Saturday and Sunday. After lots of time sitting at marinas or being underway it was fun to just be at anchor and enjoy a "sundowner".

Saturday evening was the Sailnet gathering. Lots of fun, about a dozen or so people did show up. On Sunday morning some escaped with short trips home. I elected to say for a better weather forecast. I spent Sunday on the hook due to adverse winds heading back to Norfolk. I was awakened Monday morning by the sound that chills my soul - Marine weather alert. Sure enough, thunderstorms were heading for Cambridge. So after spending the weekend on the hook (and incidentally finally burning off all - and I mean all - the old gas for my dinghy (it was touch and go getting back to Reboot the last time)) I am sitting on the dock in the Cambridge marina waiting for the fuel dock to open and the thunderstorms to pass. That looks like late afternoon so I will most likely spend the night.

Great Sailnet party. Left early, no lights and no fuel in the dinghy so I missed the more outrageous parts.

Speaking of outrageous, this weekend there were classic motorboat races here in Cambridge. I watched as a smallish powerboat pulled a barge with a picnic table and grills followed by several air recliners out to the races. On the way back they got in trouble very near Reboot. Several people fell in the water. For about 45 minutes I monitored the situation. When they finally got everything under control they putt putted past me - the 1 foot chop was about all the lash up could manage at about 3 knots. Head count - 17 people, 2 grills, 1 picnic table, 2 dogs. I doubt they had sufficient safety equipment. Of course they were all young so they will say "what a great time we had." Fabulous idea, terrible execution!

Fair winds and following seas

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Do you really know what time it is?

Actisense NGW-1
I had previously mentioned that I had installed an Actisense NGW-1 to bridge my wind data from the NMEA 2000 network to the NMEA 0183 network. When planning the install I realized that the only NMEA 0183 device still on board was the Raymarine Autopilot. I removed the NMEA 0183 bi-directional feed to the autopilot and replaced it with the NGW-1.

For a long time it has bothered me that the Autopilot display, the Raymarine GPS control Head, and the Garmin Multi-function display are never exactly in synchronization. On my trip to Yorktown with Al and on my trip to Cambridge I was bothered that something just didn't seem right. This was the first times I had gotten underway since installing the Actisense.

Totally by accident I discovered that the Raymarine GPS thought the year was 1995. Apparently the unit could not calculate the year 2015. This means that all of the almanac data driving the GPS is wrong. Prior to installing the Actisense this might have been a big deal. I am not sure. But subsequent to the install it became a very big deal. Since the only OEM data bridge between NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 puts NMEA 0183 data on the NMEA 2000 bus but not vice versa the old (circa 1995) Raymarine GPS data was isolated to the autopilot computer.The network equipment used the NMEA 2000 GPS units for data. Not so after the bridge was installed. I discovered that all of the equipment thought it was 1995! A couple of interesting things:
1) Since the GPS knew the correct time but the incorrect date all the current and tide information was wrong.
2) GPS satellites must be in pretty stable orbits - the location data was pretty close (or it was all getting it from somewhere, I am not sure.)

My solution was to set the NMEA 2000 network preferred source for the GPS to the NMEA 2000 GPS units. What a difference. Reboot picked up 1.5 knots of speed!

Tomorrow I will experiment with disconnecting the old GPS unit to see if all of the data then becomes in sync. Or, knowing Raymarine the autopilot will most likely stop working forcing me to purchase a new one (because I am sure they can't fix the old one - that would not cost enough money! Yes, I love Raymarine like I love hemorrhoids.

Part 2 is here:

Fair winds and following seas :)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Feels like 102 degrees

It is just past sunset (yes, sunset) here and the heat index is 102 degrees F.This is the coolest it has been all day. I am sitting in the cockpit with a fan blowing on me, still I am quite hot. It makes me think to revoke my decision not to purchase an air conditioner.

Fair winds and following seas :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Yorktown, VA

Yorktown Monument
We finally made it to Yorktown, VA. Al (my guest crew,) XO and I did a long slow motor directly upwind to the York River and ultimately to Yorktown. We decided to take a mooring ball (about 1/3 the price of the dock.) The water was pretty calm when we went in. We were met by a very nice dock master who got us set up and provided tourist instructions. After a nice breakfast we wandered around the town. It is quite small and has none of the ordinary amenities - grocery store, drug store, etc. We met Jeff and Penelope of Wind Dancer (also from JEBLSFS) walking through the town.

By afternoon the wind and picked up quite a bit and the dinghy ride back to Reboot was a bit bouncy. Getting back on Reboot was fun, the dinghy was traveling about 3 feet up and down alongside the lee side of the boat. We spent the night on the mooring and in the morning recovered the outboard and dinghy and headed back to Virginia Beach.

We had light following winds a a bit of sun so it was a very pleasant if not a bit long sail back. By mid afternoon we were back in a slip and once again subjected to high temperatures and high humidity. There was an advantage to being out on the water!

Fair winds and following seas :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chart table enhancement

Add caption
I have been using a variety of adapters and so forth to both charge USB devices (phones, Bluetooth speakers, etc.) and to bring out the leads for the SSB based email and weather system Things were getting a bit out of hand so I decided to clean it all up with some professional connectors. Here is the end result - stereo on top, charging station in the middle, and NMEA, modem, and HF/MF radio connections on the bottom. It looks a lot better.

Fair winds and following seas :)

Al makes the journey

Al fixing the wind instrument

Crew Work is never done.
A recurring problem that I have had on Reboot is birds landing on the masthead wind instrument and damaging it. Once again I received the repaired wind sensor from Garmin and it needed to be mounted on the mast. Al is my guest crew and he volunteered to climb the mast. Since he bike rides several miles each day I decided that his legs were a lot stronger than mine and up he went. After an uneventful project (contribution to the sea gods one screwdriver) he came back down. XO decided that after such hard work he needed to relax. Al got the rub my belly duty.

Fair winds and following seas :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Actisense NGW-1

Actisense NGW-1
I recently purchased an Actisense NGW-1 ISO. This is a bridge that provides a bi-directional link between a NMEA 0183 and a NMEA 2000 marine network. This device comes in several flavors (click on the link above) NMEA 0183 to NMEA 2000; Seatalk NG;  USB; AIS. Like most boats Reboot has a hybrid network. Her's is based on Garmin 5XXX chart plotters. The GPS, XM Weather and Radio, VHF radio interface, and Wind interface are all NMEA 2000. The Radar and Sounder (fish finder and depth gauge) are Ethernet as is the chart link between the cockpit and salon chart plotters. The AIS is high speed NMEA 0183 and the Raymarine autopilot is standard 0183.

When the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) created NMEA 2000 (based on the CAN Bus standard for motor vehicles with special "sentences" for marine use) they agreed that manufactures could bridge NMEA 0183 data onto a NMEA 2000 bus, but would (note that they could, they chose not to) not bridge NMEA 2000 data onto the NMEA 0183 bus. Their motivation, IMHO, was to get people to rip out their NMEA 0183 networks and replace them with NMEA 2000 networks. Since marine electronics are one of the most expensive components on a boat we all knew this wasn't going to happen.

Being naive at the time when I replaced my wind vane instead of keeping it as NMEA 0183 I purchased a NMEA 2000 version. As a result the Raymarine autopilot no longer got wind data and therefore could not steer a constant course to the wind. Sailing at a constant wind angle is the essence of open ocean sailing so this was quite the drawback. After putting up with this limitation for a couple of years I finally decided to invest in a NMEA 0183 to NMEA 2000 bridge. I selected the Actisense.

Perhaps my first surprise was that the device is much bigger than expected. It is in a robust housing. The cables are good quality and the entire device appealed to my engineering background. The instruction manual seems very brief but in fact is exceptionally clear. Big pictures explain "this wire goes here" Installation was easy, I disconnected the NMEA 0183 wires from the autopilot computer, attach the NGW-1 wires; add a "T" to the NMEA 2000 network and pluged the cable into the NMEA 2000 bus. It worked as advertised on the first try. (Actually installation was a pain in the neck - but that was all about the physical location of the wiring and the contortions my 6'6" body needed to accomplish to install the device!)

Checking the autopilot display at the helm confirmed that the additional NMEA 2000 sentences were being translated through the device. Too bad Garmin (and Raymarine, and B&G, and Lowrance, etc.) are not customer oriented enough to include these software bridges in their multifunction displays. Kudos to Actisense.

The one drawback of the NGW-1 is that to upgrade the firmware one needs to uninstall the device so that it can be hooked up to a computer via a serial port. It would be great if Actisense would merge the NMEA 0183 to NMEA 2000 device with their USB device so that upgrading would only require plugging in the USB cable. Perhaps they will send me a prototype for free! (Not holding my breath LOL.)

Fair winds and following seas :)

Why I am not venturing out into the Chesapeake Bay

Weather Radar - June 30, 2015
We have been experiencing almost daily thunderstorms since I arrived in Norfolk. Here is my weather radar image from last night. The dark red with the yellow arrows is the Chesapeake Bay - currents and marine weather warning. The green is light rain, as the colors get darker the rain gets more intense. Oh, and those cone shaped things emanating from the thunderbolts are the predicted tracks of thunderstorms. The bigger the cone, the bigger the storm.  Needless to say I would rather be tied to a dock than at anchor. Since it is about $100 per night to go to a marina (definitely not in my budget) I have been hunkered down in Norfolk.

The most amazing thing was that none of this ever hit Reboot (near the flag in the center of the picture.) It all fell apart before it reached me!

Fair winds and following seas :)