Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Arduino autopilot that Jack built

Autopilot kit for sale. Only $350, some assembly required. Jack Edwards, a mechanical, engineer, loom builder (yes as in weaving), and many other things in his professional career has built a functioning Ardunio based sail boat auto pilot system. The little Ardunios have piloted his aptly named boat the Wile E. Coyote over 400 miles this summer using both heading, and GPS track mode with cross track error correction. There are some chores left to complete such as wind instrument integration, but it's an impressive success with such a tiny capital outlay. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 25th

“I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.
-Bernard Manning

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Boaters "Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
twelve bankruptcy attorneys
eleven plumbers plumbing
ten canvas stichers
nine genset repairmen
eight mechanics wrenching
seven electricians shorting
six gelcoat fixers
five golden props
four Sea Tows a towing
three insurance agents
two bottom divers
and a boat in a marin a

Merry Christmas to all from Bill, Kate, and the greyhound girls.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Marine Concepts facility visit.

Building a production boat is like a recipe for Cajun Gumbo. First you start with a roux, or in our case a boat plug and mold. Most production boats are now designed using CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. This process yields many advantages. The design output is very precise. Hydrodynamic and stability characteristics are modeled, along with displacement, water resistance, and much more.

If a mold's plug is going to be CNC/robotically milled the design complexity of the plug can be increased well past the point where humans can efficiently hand make them. For example bait wells, storage compartments, anchor locker, or console can all be integrated into one deck mold.

More complex hull shapes, steps and strake designs are now possible. Some CAD software can model pulling parts from a mold by checking for interference problems before construction. This answers questions like, "Can my design with a reverse transom actually be released from the mold?"

The first thing I noticed about my visit to JRL Ventures/Marine Concepts is the vocabulary. The main term used is "Tooling". Using this word is a reflection of the way they see their business, and technologies they apply.

Boeing and Lockheed use tooling. The boat builder historically uses molds. They're exactly the same thing, but the mind-set between these two words can often be huge. Tooling in my mind immediately implies aerospace grade precision, and this is what Marine Concepts is all about. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Verado/Uflex Autopilot Hydraulic Plumbing DIY 101

Installing a autopilot with a Verado or the Ulex equivalent steering system is not difficult, but it does come with some nuances. These systems come with a proprietary high pressure power steering assist pump, and helm pump. Despite this, the plumbing is pretty straight forward, but the fittings and hoses are different. In this case we are installing a Raymarine system, but the process is similar for the other systems.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The saga of Bob's Boathouse restaurant

The permit application for the new Bob's Boathouse restaurant in Sarasota was applied for in April 2010, and granted in September 2010. Construction moved at a pace not unlike the slow drift of continents apart. With great fanfare though they finally opened after over three years of construction in November. Bob's Boathouse restaurant was back in Sarasota after a decade long hiatus.

The building site selected for Sarasota's first Bob's Boathouse restaurant was a pastoral piece of waterfront property at the end of Old Stickney Point Rd on Siesta Key. It consisted of a small retail building, a tiny stand alone wine and beer bar, and a half a dozen quaint (spelled dilapidated) wood framed cottages, one of which I lived in during the early seventies.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The reverse polarity light AC leaking musing

If white touches green, your boat can get mean. What this freshly made up maxim means is the neutral white AC wires are never supposed to be connected to the green grounding wires on your boat period. Well almost, the gods of technical details say there is a small exception to this rule, and it is the reverse polarity light.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday appetizer from the galley

I understand the the dilemma many boaters face during the holiday season. You've been invited to that dockside potluck, and you don't know what to bring. Staring at the rusty one burner alcohol stove, and the three cubic foot icebox you clench up. No Beef Wellington is going to come out of this galley, and you're out of liver pate anyway. Looking in the pantry at the can of Spam, and the box of KD, you decide your famous fried Spam casserole isn't going to cut it with your erudite boating friends palates. There is an answer however, the quick and easy festive holiday season..... Baloney Cake.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Say Ahhhhh

It wasn't that the fix was hard, but that the process was so maddening. The existing shower drain hole was just the wrong size for everything period. It's a shower drain circa the late seventies that had a home style fixture originally installed. It long ago disintegrated into crumbling green shards during its final decent into darkness. The associated pump had long since passed away, and the hoses were desiccated and in a state of rigor mortis. These were the easy things to replace. The drain fitting, not so much.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The first day going cold turkey was easy, and the only issue was what to do with all of the extra time on my hands. On the second day as usual I got up early, made a cup and plunked down in front of the computer. I opened my home page, and there was zip, nada, squat.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The new Garmin products lollapalooza

I have to admit it's one of the most impressive product roll outs I have seen in some time. Garmin is introducing nearly 50 new products including their new SideVü and DownVü CHIRP sonars. 

Add to this list the new 800, and 1000 series combo chartplotters with built in sounders, the new and free Garmin Helm iPad app, and lots of new software updates.

There is also the new Nexus wireless twin vane wind instrument, and it's one very sexy looking device. Built in solar panels keep it charged up. I'm playing with one as part of a larger project.
The list keeps on going. The Meteor sound system, LakeVü cartography (the umlauts are killing me kids), advanced high def radar and more. You know I don't do electronics product reviews here, but I can tell you nobody does it better than Ben Ellison at

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Technical writing

I have written technical materials most of my life. The past few years are the first time I have written just for the pleasure of it. In previous years as the head sales guru for custom built robotic and factory automation companies, I was always in charge of the proposal generation. There's an old rule of thumb in the aerospace business that the weight of a proposal should be one pound per million dollars bid. There was a lot of truth to this.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


This scenario eerily  reminds me of another. A owner had purchased a new boat, and had a long laundry list of things that he could not live without. A kick butt stereo, loads of electronics, and inexplicably, although this boat was just short of forty feet, there was no anchor winch and he wanted one. I go forward and stare at the bow. There is no anchor pulpit, and to install one the bow light and a cleat will have to be removed. Okay that can be done.  The story got worse when I actually looked inside the anchor locker and discovered it was barely large enough to hold a hundred feet of rode.

I called the manufacturer, and asked why the locker anchor was so small, there was no anchor pulpit, and it will take some heroics to install an anchor winch. There's a pause, and then the response. "Where we live if you go off shore in twenty minutes you're in a thousand feet of water, and you can't anchor anyway. Most of the people here use a anchor lifting ball to pull up the anchor."

"Okay" I said. "But where this boat lives you have to go an hour in a really fast boat to get into a hundred feet of water. Are you telling me that after spending nearly $300,000 on a boat almost forty feet long that you expect the owner to attach the ball, haul up the anchor, drag a couple hundred feet of wet rode, chain, anchor, and a two foot ball into the boat, sort it all out and stow it in a locker half the size of a real one single handed? Your kidding me right?" After a very long pause the customer support guy said, "Well he bought the boat didn't he?" I adjusted the boat to the way it should have been built, but not without some tribulations and real expense.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chart rune ruminations

It started when I saw the odd rune looking symbol on a chart. As a matter of fact when I first saw them, this entire island was surrounded by these mysterious runes. An odd sort of curvaceous "E" with a tale hanging off it, with jagged lines adjacent. The pattern I circled was everywhere around the island.

Might they be there to scare boaters away? They certainly would discourage me. A special symbol for old naval mines? Maybe they mark active volcanic vents. Could this be? And why is there an airfield on this tiny little island so near the very end of the Aleutian Islands chain?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Snap shots

Film is cheap, and I use of lot of the digital versions of it. My theory is is you take enough varying images of the same thing, one of them statistically will be usable. Not high art mind you, just in focus, and tells the story. I'm rarely without the camera, and I burn through about one a year graduating in technology each time. I also seem to see things many never notice, which at times can take a decidedly odd turn. Huh? Click. I was going through my pic files, and stumbled across these. A mix of the interesting, and others that are just the product of my imagination.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Production Boat Designer

I thought it was an inspired idea. If I wanted to know why so many boats are so difficult to maintain, and so installation unfriendly, I should talk to some boat designers. Go to the horses mouth so to speak, and get the facts. I look online and find some firms whose sites aver they do production boat design, and pick some likely ones to communicate with. There aren't really very many of them. I pick one and send an email that goes somewhat like...

Dear Production Boat Design Professional, I'm a writer, and own a small company that installs marine electronics. My blog is built in part around the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments I encounter working on boats both large and small. These stories typically have one of three themes.

Inappropriate application of technology on boats, design/construction doesn't anticipate the customers future basic equipment installation needs, and boats which are extraordinarily difficult to maintain due to assembly/access issues or lack of documentation.

I have rules about these stories. The manufacturers are never mentioned, and the pictures are all close ups to make it impossible to identify the specific boat. My intent is to have builders improve upon these issues, not to point a finger, or hurt someone.  If you had some time to talk with me about the designers role in this, I would very much appreciate it. My suspicion is the designer largely plays little role in these issues, and the fault mostly falls with the manufacturer. If you would rather not, I understand, I have scared a couple designers away already, even with the opportunity to have some control over the content. Anyway, thanks for any consideration. Tnx Bill

The silence was deafening. I was in space, and you couldn't hear me scream. A mote of dust settling on a feather, the tree that fell in the forest. You get the picture. I know one firm read one of the story links I included, and the others not so much. In retrospect I shouldn't have expected any of them to want to assist me. What, help the guy who's always disparaging boat design and construction? He's a witch, burn him! I suspect the truth is whether they are in some way responsible for the problems I write about, or not, they may have been involved with boats that I have had less than kind words about. They are numerous to say the least.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New products from the Politically Incorrect Chandlery

With Xmas just around the corner our buyers have been searching high and low for holiday gift items for the truly discriminating boater, and these unique new items are now available. Don't wait, stock is limited on some items, and we can assure you these are only available at PIC, your exclusive high end marine chandlery.

Our Super Bright Spot Lights

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Racing on Morgana

I think this should start with introducing you to Morgana. I have had a long association with this vessel starting with my encounter when electrolysis severely damaged her rudder, and more recently with my Acticense and NMEA adventures. She's a beautiful custom built gaff rigged ketch whose lines come directly from the sailing coasters of the early 18th through the start of the 20th century. These were the coastal trucks of the seas that transported cargo, and passengers from port to port. There are a small handful of original coasters left sailing today mostly used as tourist attractions or museum exhibits. They became obsolete with advent of the gas engine, and by the 1930's they were almost extinct. Nowadays the term "Coaster" applies to any of a variety of smaller vessels that provide coastal area transport services.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Navigating the USS Midway

When launched in 1945 just days after the end of WWII, she was the largest ship in the world, and is still mightily impressive today. There are many who tell her history, and of the 225,00 sailors who lived on her during 47 years of service. I will leave some links behind for you to explore. I had some spare time during the NMEA conference, and visited the USS Midway Museum, a most worthy way to spend a few hours. Today we are talking about some of her navigation gear history. The USS Midway offers a slice of navigational equipment history spanning two generations.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dallas tripping

My eyes snapped opened at 5:00 am. It's Saturday morning in San Diego, and I'm heading back to Sarasota after the NMEA conference. Marine electronics propaganda is secured. My scattered clothing is gathered, and hung in the bag. A final sweep of the room ensures I haven't left anything behind. I head down to the lobby to check out, and grab a coffee. I'm doomed, and don't know it yet.

The San Diego Sheraton is right next door to the airport, and I'm whisked there in less than five minutes. Finding an empty ATMesque check in computer my e-ticket number gets scanned in. There's my seat assignment alright, and it sucks. The dreaded center seat in which it's guaranteed you will be squashed in-between a 300 lb professional wrestler, and a mom holding an infant that is crying nonstop and needs its diaper changed. Despite the fact I had purchased the ticket five weeks before the flight, the coveted aisles had been booked. I study the remaining options and what's this? An exit row aisle seat is available. That's great, it means if there is an accident I'm the first one out the door, but it requires paying another $27.50 to get it. Grimacing, I swipe my card, and acquire it, a most fortuitous decision it turns out.

I wait patiently for boarding. "We're boarding our super deluxe platinum members, and service men and women in uniform. Gold card holders, and passengers with small dogs in strollers may now board. We are now welcoming aboard our advantage plus members and all one eyed passengers. Silver plated club members may board at any time. Now boarding group one. I stare at my ticket and sigh. I'm group four.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The fixer

Jaytron, is my favorite marine electronics distributor. I can't remember how long I have dealt with them but its been many years. They're fair, have a smart staff, and a huge inventory. The conversations I have with them often go like, "Hi Frank, it's Bill, I need one of these Seaview round wedgie thingys for a KVH M1 satellite system mount and a Ray backbone kit, you know, the one with really long blue cable. Yeah that's it, the 20m cable is the right one. Thanks Frank." A large amount of my transactions are done from my cell phone whilst milling around in my less than palatial vehicle trying not to run over tourists. The slow ones at any rate. I rarely have part numbers at hand and rely on their very experienced staff to help me. Jaytron however has another huge asset.

Today is different, I'm waiting patiently in line at Jaytron clutching a large canvas bag. Vinnie, wearing a black suit and holding a clipboard is manning the rope line. "What's in the bag buddy?" inquires Vinnie. I quaver, "It's a Ray classic E-120 with no back lighting, and a classic C-80 with a broken on off switch. Vinnie stares into the bag for a second, then reaches back, unhooks the velvet rope, and says "The Fixer will now see you."

The Fixer is Steve Senft, a quite remarkable and extraordinarily talented professional. He was an electronics warfare tech in the navy, and afterwards worked for several contractors including GE on Andros Island. For the last twenty years he has been associated with Jaytron repairing marine electronics and amateur radio gear including single side band radios, one of his many specialties.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The museum of shattered video dreams

Despite the video's title, it was, but now isn't going to be used. Every year I enter the Boating Writers International writing contest in the "Original Online Content" category.  This entry has required a 300 word essay be submitted answering questions about your journalistic standards, media forms you use and others. In the past few years I have done cartoons as my essay form. They are still 300 words, but the toons are more fun to do, and in many ways exemplify more adroitly what I'm trying to do with the blog. Dealing with work and tech, while having a little fun at the same time. The Rant is my real voice, and if you have heard me speak, there is no difference.  

Xtranormal, the software, and website that I used to create these went out of business on July 30 2013 with little notice. I still had credits, so I did this piece, and finished on July 29th. This is one of the last ones made. It was buggy software, and the computer voice spoke phonetically requiring some real gyrations at times to make it understandable. If I wanted a character to say NMEA, it would look like "Knee Maa." To make the voices clear required some tedious editing, and in this case it took about two days of mucking around to complete it.

But the contest doesn't close until December 31st you're thinking, why now? Well it got some attention the first time I used a toon, and I actually won third place. So if I won the second race at the track, by betting on the number two horse, why not try it again? I think I haven't won again not because of the cartoon essays, but maybe poor my choices in entry selections. I tend to pick the ones I had the most fun writing, which maybe aren't the most glowing examples of my writing skills, and perhaps lacked the gravitas expected of a professional boating writer. I had fun writing them though, and who else would tackle these subjects in this way? Senators all named after boils?

In the end I have to be fresh, new, and on the cutting edge, while still being slightly irrelevant. I have found it! Tech galore, stretching audio editing to it's very limits, and animatronics to boot. You will be able to see it right after the Miami boat show when the winners are announced. I can already see myself accepting the keys to the city while holding the first place plaque. I hate to waste work product. There's sort of a bartender joke along with some insider gaffs, and references. Here is the not to be used unused essay.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The top ten things that make my life difficult.

These are the things that grate on me. Although the numbers are very difficult to get at, I would estimate that annual North American sales of marine electronics related gear is about $800,000,000 per year. My guess is about 15 percent of the sales costs are required to install all of this gear. This works out to about $120,000,000 a year. Of this number easily half is spent working around poor boat design. That's $60,000,000 in annual costs to owners that good boat design would have saved.

Lets look at a small typical new boat package. Chart plotter ($2500), radar ($1000), VHF ($150), sounder module ($500), transducer ($200), VHF antenna ($80). This totals $4230. Using the 15% rule, installation costs would be about $635, this would be about one man day plus or minus to install the system. The wasted cost to the buyer is $317.00, This is a small system, and not an extreme case, of which there are many. So right out of its shrink wrap the new boat is already costing owners lots of real money. 

The incapability of most boat builders, both large and small in understanding even the basics of how their customers will use their boats, and what they might want to install on them astounds me daily. Why are the water pick ups on both sides of the hull insuring I can't install a properly working transom mount transducer? Did you think this might be important, or you just don't know any better? It was purported by marketing to be a offshore fishing boat, but there is no mounting plate to install a radar, and no way to get the cable down to the chart plotter. The three hours it took to pull the transducer wire to the console because the 2" piece of PVC pipe pretending to be a grown up conduit is already packed to the max. The boat with no place to install an autopilot compass. A console interior with no mounting blocks to install gear. No fuse blocks, power leads, documentation, wire pulls, and many others round out the list.

# 1 The wire pull.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thinking ahea

I'm sure the marketing department felt they had a winner. I can just imagine the presentation. "In conclusion, Magnifico Yacht customers polled liked the idea, and it's becoming common in many luxury autos. We can also point out the safety aspects of not having to take your hands off the helm to change the stereo volume, or channel." "Good presentation Bob, and I like the idea. It's a lot better than that Grey Poupon mustard cockpit holder you pitched us on last week. We'll go with." 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Iron Chef, Mac and Cheese Battle

This is Gecko's in the Landings mac and cheese cook off. Eighteen entries were submitted by regulars for the mass's consideration, and prizes to boot. The prizes were nice, but oh how the bragging rights would be coveted for all time to come. Teams were being formed, and the smack talk started early. Pejorative allusions to other's cooking skills and the quality of their palates were rampant. Ingredient teasers, and red herrings abound. Did you hear the rumor about the abalone and truffles mac? 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Local boats I like,"Route 66"

This is the first of the "boats I like series." These are vessels that catch my wayward and mercurial eye. Since Sarasota has such a diverse boating community, these can range from something stashed away in a garage, to vessels hidden in plan sight in the many local marinas and canals. The one thing they have in common is their uniqueness, and personal appeal to me. With most of these boats, I don't know the owners, and have never boarded them. We're starting today with "Route 66" that is currently residing in the Longboat Key Moorings marina.

You can miss the nearly 80' of elegantly crossed braced mast and swept back spreaders on Route 66 designed by B&R Designs (Lars Bergstrom, and Sven Ridder). If a sailor isn't familiar with these names, just look look up at the Windex atop your mast. This is one of their many sailing innovations.

Lar's, an experienced pilot passed away in 1997 due to a tragic powered sailplane accident. One of my favorite possessions is one of the carbon fiber water tank test hulls of Route 66 I bought when his Sarasota facility was closed and it now hangs from my living room ceiling.

Route 66 is the product of the many lessons learned from the Warren Luhrs's ocean racing sailboat children, Tuesday's Child, Thursday's Child, and Hunter's Child

Hunter's Child's hull shape was an improvement on Thursday's Child's designed by both Paul Lindenburg, and Lars Bregstrom, and built by B&R Designs. Thursday's Child was already a big winner, and broke the New York, to San Francisco record held by the clipper Flying Cloud since 1854, along with other records. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Miser Flag

"Hi, this is Bill." "I'm John, do you install marine electronics?" "Yes that's what I do, how can I help you?" "Well Bill, a couple of years ago I had a guy install a Sparrow fish finder on my boat, and it only works when I go real slow." I just bought a used Chartomatic Five inch combo sounder/GPS on sale off the Internet, Flag but this time I want it installed by a professional. So I called the manufacturer and got a list of six certified installers, and your name was first on the list. I want only the best to do the work."

"Well thanks John, but I suspect the list was alphabetical, and I don't think all of them actually live in Sarasota, but anyway tell me what you need done." "Well Bill, I want the Sparrow unit and transducer removed intact because I want to sell it on Ebay, Flag and have you install the new to me Chartomatic and transducer on the boat." "I can do that, John, what kind of boat is this?" It's a Magnifico 30 go fast boat." Flag Flag Flag Flag "I'm familiar with that boat John, where does it live?" I don't want to tell you that yet." Flag "Well that's fine John, is it on a trailer or in a marine facility?" "Ah no it's on a boat lift, and you will have to bring a boat to install the transducer, or do whatever you guys normally do to install these things. The water is only five feet deep at low tide, you could do it in the water." Flag Flag "Okay John this is possible."

"Bill how much will you charge me to do this?" Well it's hard to say John, I haven't see the boat, but normally on most boats it would take about three hours at $70.00 an hour to do this from scratch. That would be about be about $210 but like I said I haven't seen the boat. It might be less if the transducer wire pull is easy, but the transducer will be much more difficult to do on a lift." "Three hours? Flag You charge $70 an hour? Flag That's outrageous, I'd  rather do it my self." Flag, Flag, Flag, Flag, Flag, Flag
"Well you said you wanted a professional John. I'm certified, insured, bring all of the tools required for the job to you, guarantee the performance of the system, and teach you how to use it. I can't get a plumber to show up for less than a $100 at my house, and that's before he picks up a wrench. You apparently didn't have a professional install your Sparrow fish finder or it would have worked in the first place, and in the end it will cost as much to uninstall the Sparrow as it cost you to buy in the first place." "Well thanks for the advice Bill, but "I'm not one to just throw my money around. I think I will keep shopping around." "That's fine John, If you need me I will try to help. I will flag your number in my phone directory so I will recognize your call."

"I wanted to make real sure I was too busy to take that call if it appeared. It fortunately hasn't happened yet, and I'm delighted. I'm pretty sure he has a difficult time hiring a plumber. Sheesh!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Radar Rx

It's not op art, only a cheesy replica of a radar screen image I get to see on occasion. In reality it's pretty close to what the screen actually looks like. This image has two likely sources. If it's a reasonably clear image the array is not turning, and you're seeing an image from one direction only. If the image is noisy another possible scenario is you have a lot of condensation on the inside of the radar dome.

In this case the little domed Furuno array was not turning. Opening the dome and seeing the drive belt disconnected immediately conjured the insight that if the belt was put back in place, the array would turn, and the problem would go away. This proved to be the case, for a few seconds at any rate.

Pretty picture, oops concentric circles again. The dome gets re-opened, and I take a closer look. The belt is off again, and when I looked closely at the little DC motor drive gear, I found it was loose.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Compass Conumdrum

I hear it often from power boaters, nothing ever matches. The compass says one thing, the GPS says another, and the autopilot heading is different. Which one is right? My answer is usually all of them to some degree, but when in doubt, trust the GPS/COG heading. Why It's a math thing assuming you have a decent fix, and you can check on that. The magnetic compass in the dash, as well as the autopilot digital compass are actually more prone to give you a wonky readings due to a variety of environmental factors.

I'll start with the venerable magnetic compass. This is old, very old technology that works perfectly as long as it's in a wood boat with no ferrous metal, or electrical wiring. Truth be told, this is rarely the case, and here is a simple example. The boat builder installs the compass that came from the factory perfectly calibrated. Also installed within inches is now a chart plotter, wiring harnesses, and even a nearby storage compartment to keep your steel screw driver, and hook pliers in. Calibrated it may have once been, but now no longer.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Illustrated Garmin DIY Auto Pilot Installation

It's a "Green Field" autopilot install. By that I mean I'm dealing with a new boat. I've also been waiting for a while to find a boat with little infrastructure, and design forethought for an autopilot. This will allow me to talk a bit about some of the tribulations you can encounter, and what the options are to solve them. At some point I will ask that the Garmin and Teleflex people to leave the room briefly, while I read from the Installer's sacred text titled "In the Real World." The goal is to make you feel good about your chances of installing one of these systems, and have it work, ahem, the first time.

As my colleague Jay Sellers used to say, "Here is my office today." The good news is it's clean, and has room for me. The bad news it's steam room hot, there is little room to install things, and the dealership has already installed a chart plotter, radar, stereo, and other odds and ends.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The leaking Capilano caper

I missed it, sort of. The older Capilano helm was leaking in the front. There was that steady insidious small line of hydraulic juice weeping its way down the console face, and being collected by a towel whose presence wasn't desired. Sure I can fix that, I say with my ounce of image. I call Teleflex, and get the part number for the helm shaft o-ring. Oops, I have to buy the entire rebuild kit for the pump. It is what it is and I have to have the gasket. The kit comes, the helm shaft o-ring was leaking, but not very much. I change it and wipe everything down. I'm done, but I wasn't.

A few days later I get another call. It's still leaking. I go out and take another look. It's the twisty knob shaft that's now doing it, or more likely had been all along, I wipe everything down. I take some Q-tips and clean up the area, and yep, that is another leak. It was a good thing I bought the entire kit. Capilano helms have a knob that sticks out below the helm. Rotating the knob clockwise reduces the number of lock to lock turns, and increases the number of turns in the other direction. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Big box store TV repairs, a rant.

It's the bottom of the ninth. The Rays are ahead, and closing pitcher Fernando Rodney is hurling balls at the plate with speeds nearing 100 miles per hour trying to keep it that way. At that moment, the right half of the TV screen turns grayish. It's like I'm watching it through a veil. Then it goes black. The left side stays on for a few more seconds, and then winks off also. We now own a very large radio. I listen to the remaining last few minutes of the game. Rodney gets the job done. Rays win.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Super Boat races 2013

It's a bit of a misnomer to call these vessels boats, yes they float and travel on the water, but beyond that they bare little resemblance to what most of us use in our daily life. To me they conjure terms like space shuttle, fighter jet, Formula 1 race car, and the ilk.

Crew help the drivers, and throttle men squeeze through a small water tight hatch on top and into formed seats. Hans devices are passed down and installed. Next come helmets loaded with comm gear. Restraints are fastened. Looking down the dock, I see a portable air conditioning system being disconnected from a craft being cleared for departure. See, it already sounds like a description of a fighter aircraft being prepared for a mission. The only thing that seems to be missing are the heads up displays, and the air to air missiles. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

KVH 24/7, why not others?

It was a good service call, and it's all over in about 30 minutes. It was a 2007 KVH M4 dome that stopped acquiring the DirecTV satellites. I could hear it whirring around looking, unwrapping its cables, seeking again, but no TV signal joy was to be had. The DirecTV receiver also verified the story. The endless searching for satellites message. Testing the transponders showed zero signal.  Not even a whiff of RF was detected. But I was ready.

I had KVH's software on my netbook, and everything on this boat is super convenient. The KVH data port is right next to both the TV and the receiver. This is the Christmas miracle of marine electronics work. An air conditioned cabin cool enough to hang a side of Angus beef in, everything is within a couple of feet of me, and I don't smell or look like a sweat soaked old guy.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hurricane preparedness

The lovely, and most aptly named West Marine associate Marina agreed to pose in front of her hand crafted Hurricane preparedness poster. I thought her Vanna White pose was the best of the photos I took. I liked two additional aspects of her art work. The wind flayed captain's boxer shorts are detailed with West Marine logos, and his expression reminds me of Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit claymation characters. Many thanks Marina.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Alberg Triton

Looking around the N. E. Taylor boatyard, my eyes passed over a small sloop, and then immediately snapped back. That's a Carl Alberg design for sure, and you don't see many on Florida's west coast. It must be an Alberg 30, but somethings not quite right. 

In the 80's I lived in the Toronto area, and Kate and I were boat shopping. The list was broad at first and then got narrower as we winnowed down the list. One of the early options was the Alberg 30 built by the Whitby Boat Works. I loved the classic lines, but the cockpit seemed at the time to be more exposed then I liked. Georgian Bay's waters are at best cold, and at its worst freezing. It was also a little smaller than than I wanted. 

The search shifted to the Alberg 37's, but I just couldn't find the right one. Next on the list were the C&C 34's, and we crawled through a lot of them, but in the end we got a great deal on a Mirage 35 and had it delivered to Midland Ontario. This boat however is a Alberg designed Pearson built Triton....I think, because there is a bit of a mystery about it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Outracing technology.

It's not uncommon prior to the annual Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix offshore boat races that I get some chores to do, and this year was no exception. I can't give you any details about the boat, But I can show you the tasks. Speed is important, and the boat in this particular class has a "not to exceed speed." You exceed the magic MPH, and you automatically go to the end of the line. This Livorsi GPS speedometer is GPS driven, and the battery inside the GPS has died, hence it is now non compos mentis. There are three options available. Remove the GPS, send it out, and have a new battery installed. Buy the new GPS engine that no longer needs a battery. Or do the not well advertised interfacing the NMEA output from a chart plotter to the instrument.

Comm wiring awry

The navigation gear works well, but it's old enough to have been purchased from Ye Olde Marine Electronics Chandlery, and the NMEA interfacing to the new laptop has taken forever. Six weeks alone on and off mucking around with the Actisense/PC interface, only to discover that Window's automatic updates were changing the USB driver when I wasn't looking. It was like gremlins were sneaking in at night, killing the good elves, stealing the shoes they made, and doing their software evil.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Battery installus incompetentous interuptus

Timmy, we just sold the bow rider, and we will have to deliver the boat with a battery. Here is a bag of coppers. Take them to the market, and buy the cheapest battery you can find, and hurry back. And Timmy, if you come back with magic beans again you're going to be in big trouble.

The boat dealer is facing two conundrums. First off most smaller boats are not shipped with the batteries. Maybe there is some sort of interstate shipping regulations about this, or tipping the boat just a few degrees will let the batteries tumble out of the marginal restraints used to keep them in place. I think the boat builder just doesn't want to spend the money installing them. This has the added benefit of not testing the boats electrical system before shipping. Why look for trouble in the first place I say?

The dealer has to also worry about whether his staff has the competence and moxie to install the batteries in the first place. I mean look at all of the those wires, and ooh, look at all the pretty colors.

This is the end result. The solution from this dealers cost viewpoint is one cheap battery, with everything plugged into it. It's not hard. Take all the black wires and attach them to the negative post, and all of the reds go to the positive post. Hmm, what about the yellow wire Bob? It seems more reddish, then blackish, and what's up with these pink, and brown wires? It seems brown is closer to black than red. We better call the factory and ask.