Thursday, September 5, 2019

Thing are going to be messed up for a while some rearranging is going on. The older material is being cleaned up. There will be three archive categories. Humor, DIY, and random stuff. And we will start anew with a different feel and outlook, but still generally boat-related. Should be finished in a couple of weeks, there is a god awful amount of material to go through. B

Friday, March 8, 2019

Yep, I'm alive

Just a short note. I've been busy with a novel and screenplay writing project that's nearing completion. When I'm wrapped up the Rant will return but with a more eclectic change of heading. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I have disabled comments to keep the endless comment spam off the site. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Speaker to magnets

It's exactly what it looks like, a field. A neutral place generally free of magnetic sources. I say this because there is no place on earth free of magnetic fields. We all live on a giant roundish rotating magnet. But in this empty field there isn't much. On our planet ambient background magnetic fields typically vary around 25 to 65 microTeslas. The extra microTeslas on you see on the meter are largely coming from power lines and other things around me. On the whole this isn't much and the local field is reading zero. However, a large green field isn't boat by any measure, and this is where we start.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jolting and Fleece

Can boat batteries shock you? The answer is yes and I can in an empirical way say this is the truth. The way you can test this is on a stinking hot humid day in Florida whilst in the bowels of the boat sweating like a pig have your wet arm come in contact with the positive and negative battery terminals. Will this kill you? No! Will  the shock hurt you? Not really. But in a cramped and confined hot space can it startle you causing your head to jerk up smacking the underside of the deck and let the wrench in your hand at the same time bridge the terminals causing notable arcy sparky stuff to briefly happen? Yep I know from personal experience this is very possible, and if there was hydrogen sulfide gas leaking from the batteries at the same time there might be a kaboom.

BTW the legal department on the fourth floor reminds me to tell everyone to not try to invent or test ways to have large batteries shock you. If you're going to try this anyway at least make sure you video it and use the revenue to help pay the medical bills. Although the voltage is low the amount of  the stored energy is large and the law of unintended circumstances can raise it's ugly head.

Monday, July 24, 2017


It never ceases to amaze me why people supposedly skilled in the art of building boats can do such stupid things. It could be in their minds it seemed to be a good idea at the time, or perhaps it's the delusion that their work is so good that it will never need to be touched again. So off we go on a modest photo essay of things I see that just drives me nuts. Our first case is corrosion protection.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Template tempest

Rule number one: When you buy a four-foot open array radar, it ain't four feet. It's something else, and it's almost always longer. In sum, it didn't fit where it was supposed to go. This led to some interesting gyrations to find a solution. A number of problems had to be solved. The first was how to do some careful measuring of curved in space and time radar arch surfaces that were not perfectly symmetrical as you would expect of any hand made product. And who would be surprised to find out nothing on a boat is square and true? The second issue was measuring the swing of the radar array, and the third problem was the design of a cantilevered ledge to mount the radar on. But in the end the lesson here is that there is almost always a way to solve a problem. Oops did I just hedge my statement a bit?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Navpods and goo

Sometimes things in my truck look like garbage and there usually is some there. But often it's part of my tool kit. No it's not as pretty as my micrometer or as fancy as some of my electrical measurement gear is but nevertheless it does a great job of getting rid of goo. This plain piece of 1/4" acrylic is the remainder of a VHF radio install using a new plate that covered the much bigger hole from a older deceased unit. I have several similar pieces like this floating around in the bowels of the truck.

In the boating world there are two types of goo. Those that can be removed with the aid of solvents, and all the others. The others are what this unimposing piece of plastic is good for. I've pulled out a VDO chart plotter. I had never seen one before but they did exist at least in the past, and this one was long overdue for replacement. The new unit is a Garmin 7612 MFD and because of space issues I'm installing it in a PYI Seaview Power Pod. But I have to get rid of the goo first.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The apoplectic wire pull

The DirecTV receiver failed. It was one of two on the boat. It was connected to a ten year old KVH satellite dome that was always on. Here is the catch. The existing receivers are legacy receivers and are no longer available. The newer SWM (Single Wire Multi-switch) technology receivers are available everywhere but not compatible with the existing dome. In theory you can add a powered Multi-switch to get around this. Given the age of all of the gear coupled with the mess behind the entertainment center with miles of unlabeled white coax cable it was decided to start anew. It seemed so simple at the time and then promptly went to hell in a hand basket when I tried to pull the new wiring.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Raymarine secret tech revealed.

I am often bemused by things I see on TV especially funky boating related content. Louis C.K. showed a photo he took of his chart plotter on some late night TV show talking about when he grounded his boat. It was from a classic E120 Ray system and I quickly was able to see the the safety contour was still set at the factory default of 66'. What this meant was all of the water that is less than 65' deep was all the same dark blue color on the chart. Set it to 7' and all water that is dark blue is.... you guessed it, is 6' or less, maybe much less so pay attention. Turquoise colored water is then 6' to 12', and white water is deeper than 12'. I sent Louis an email with instructions on how to set up his E120 better. I suspect he was too embarrassed to respond back to me.

So it bugs me that apparently Hollywood and TV professionals seem to know little or nothing about boats other than there should be women in bikinis aboard. The set up is simple. The shrewd NCIS New Orleans personnel suspect the boat they are on took a trip and a murder happened. The first antics not included in the little video clip was having the actor look at the waypoint list to figure out where the boat went. How could that be determined? Well in an abstract sort of way waypoint data does have a time stamp showing when it was created, but not used. The actor then decides to use Raymarine's top secret new "Back Trak 3D(™)" technology you will see for the very first time. Look out track points, you're a thing of the past. You're history, passé, old school and devoid of high tech 3D computer graphics.

The sad thing from the producer's viewpoint should be all the wasted money spent on pasting in a cheesy CAD model and zooming in on it when the track points could have been used for free and would have been realistic. I didn't buy the alternative "Back Trak" thing, but maybe it's real? Producers, got questions about real boaty stuff? Send me an email.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Electric Chair

I'm fairly sure this is R2D2's great grandfather and the image is iconic. It's circa about 1995. For those that are math challenged this is about 22 years ago. But this is really about the chair, or in this case two helm chairs. The chairs are beautiful and at the time most likely the best money could buy. Everything electrically adjusts. Headrests, position on the rails, and you name it is controlled by a panel of buttons on the side. Overall very cool if the electrical and mechanical stuff still worked. One sort of does, and the other not so much at all.

Very little documentation about these chairs still exist. After combing through the ship's papers and manuals I have a brochure, an unreadable wiring diagram, and parts list for things I can no longer purchase. Online is no help either. Time has marched passed these elaborate chairs.

Here is the second problem. The yacht is getting new teak flooring. Yep real teak, not some type of veneered plywood. So what do we do with the helm chairs?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wiring fuax pas

A couple of wires got swapped around during a new gear install and the subsequent damage was north of $7000. You had to look closely at the wiring to see what went wrong. This is the terminal block inside a Garmin GSD26 CHIRP sounder module, and the wiring is coming from an Airmar 2kW/3kW r109LH CHIRP transducer. This costly error was made when it was installed and resulted in the failure of two sounder modules, and a very expensive transducer.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Captain Ralph's logs. The life of a delivery captain.

The life of a boat delivery captain is more often than not a easy or glamorous job. They can delivery new boats, not so new boats, and boats they wished they never stepped on the deck of. My friend Ralph has been doing this for a long time and as a consequence he has learned bad stuff on boats can and will happen on occasion. Engines crap out always at the worst times. They can also on occasion catch fire or sink. Navigation electronics and autopilots fail when you need them the most and the weather always has to be accommodated. The list of stuff that inconveniently breaks on a boat is almost endless. As a matter of fact it's a rare boat that everything on it is actually working. Ralph has to know the basics of almost every navigation system ever made, and he's a decent a 101 engine mechanic under duress.

As you can imagine over some metaphorical beers Whiskey Tango Foxtrot boat escapades flow right out of him. Ralph keeps a daily log of his trips, and through his eyes you are going to read his trip logs here on the Rant and the first one is fraught with problems. Did you know you can deliver a large boat on the water almost all the way to Tulsa Oklahoma? I didn't, and at times during this trip Ralph wishes he didn't either. Along the way Ralph adds in some some "Fun Facts" and comments about where he is.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Getting Skooled

It's time to get tutored again by Garmin to keep my certification valid. The last time was in Ft Lauderdale a couple of years ago. This required getting up at 3 am to get my sorry ass to Lauderdale by 8 am. The 4 hour drive return trip wasn't any more fun either. This time fortunately training was in Tampa so I only had to get up at the crack of dark and drive an hour. The format this time was very different, and much improved.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Screen scenes day

What do you mean your chart plotter is growing ferns and has bugs in it? Are you serious? You really are? Okay I'll come over and take a look. One of the interesting things about this job is trying to translate what people tell you about a problem into something useful you can use. More often than not it's collection of vague recollections. It's acting up, it doesn't seem right, there was a message on the screen but I don't remember it, my sonar isn't working. 

The end result is my verbal interrogation skills have to kick in. I sit them down in a metaphorical chair, shine a bright spotlight in their face and sweat some additional meager tidbits out of them. "So Bob what do you mean your sonar is broken? What did you do to it? You'll feel better if you get it off your chest, tell me the truth Bob. Did you push the wrong button? You say you did nothing? Do you have any witnesses? No? This isn't looking too good for you Bob. I think you better call your tech. You're going to need representation, and repair money.

I get it. It can be difficult. It's like telling your mechanic you car won't start. He then thinks to himself there are a zillion reasons why this could be happening. It can be even worse. A owner tells the dealer something is wrong. It's already fuzzy enough now, and then the dealer calls me and makes it even fuzzier. Hi Bill, something is broke on Bob's boat, can you go over and fix it? Hell I don't know Bill, it's something to do with the electronics, just go fix it. 

In this case when I was told there were ferns and bugs in his chart plotter I'm not sure I could have done a better job of describing it. I just gawked at it for a moment trying desperately to think of something to say that sounded real smart. Failing miserably at this I just blurted "It's broke and it won't grow back."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Presidential boating, a reprised post with a note

I assiduously avoid politics on the The Rant, and I'm not changing this stance now. Even being careful a story that is patently fictional to the point it even includes characters such as zombies or aliens, can on occasion incur the wrath of those that somehow can't tell the difference. I made the little cartoon just before the election in 2012 and it was crafted so no one was a winner or loser. This year is different and all of us will have been the losers in this process no matter who wins, but the biggest loser of all is public civility and rational discussion. Go vote tomorrow for anyone you want and on Wednesday we will all collectively be grateful the political ads will have disappeared from our TV. The story below is exactly as it originally appeared in 2012. Bill

After doing some research, most modern presidents have generally eschewed recreational boating. When you see them on a boat, it's generally for a photo op, or a day trip on a friends yacht. The notable exceptions are Jack Kennedy who was by all measures an enthusiastic boater, George Bush Sr. who has, and uses a center console fishing boat, and Herbert Hover who was avid fisherman. Although Jimmy Carter was a graduate of the Naval  Academy, and a submariner, his boating presidency is marked by the selling of the Sequoia, and the infamous rabbit incident.

Let's put President Obama, and Governor Romney in a debate setting, and have them talk about boats. In this case Governor Romney owns at least a 29' Searay bowrider, a small Boston Whaler, ski boat, and a couple PWC's that are kept at his vacation home in New Hampshire. It is not believed that President Obama has a boat. They both do support boating, in their own ways.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Installing the Simrad SGO5 steer by wire autopilot and playing with the Sea Station.

Most of my autopilot installs I just grind out. Do the plumbing and contain the oily mess. Punch holes in the dash for control displays. Add NMEA network pieces, hang black boxes, and connect a bunch of wires. At the end of the job I smell like I've showered in hydraulic fluid, and dried off with a sweat soaked rag. It's very close to the truth. This autopilot system install is different, and different is good. No plumbing, no greasy fluids, few parts and it was easy-ish. This boat also has some very new Sea Star tech I had the opportunity to play with and really liked.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Boating morals

I really don't enjoy the big three long weekends. Memorial day, the 4th of July and Labor day are in my view the three worst times of the year to go boating. Marinas are packed, boat ramps overwhelmed, and anyplace on the water that has food, liquor and a dock is knee deep in vessels and their alcohol fueled exuberant crews.

These are indeed the quintessential amateur days on the water. My life is made worse by owner's realizations the boat that hasn't moved since the last long weekend holiday now has a variety of ailments. Dead batteries, bilge pumps that don't, electronics that won't turn on and the 12 volt outlet isn't working and this means the daiquiri blender isn't usable. My phone rings endlessly. Some I can help, some I can't, and some I won't. Crikey Bob that thing has been broken for months, and you're calling me at the crack of dark Saturday morning to get it fixed by 10:00 am? Buy a car battery and jumper cables to run the blender. It ain't happening today, Sheesh.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The secret life of hulls and transducers

It's a great transducer. It was carefully and properly installed. The only problem is it doesn't work if the boat is moving faster than 10kts. You can't put this style transducer anywhere on this hull where it will work at speed. This is a far more common problem than you would believe and the problem is caused by the hull design,  not the transducer.

The owner of this boat is experienced and has expectations about transducer performance. Another owner of the identical boat is new to boating and just assumed transducers don't work if the boat is moving. Hull design, construction, and rigging all contribute positively or negatively to transducer performance. In my world a transducer should be able to hold bottom and mark fish targets at most boat's normal cruising speeds. For reasons we are going to learn about this is often not the case.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sealed up for all time

It ostensibly was an easy install. Stick a weather receiver on the hardtop, a quick and easy pull into the console and plug the little beastie in. The mechanics of the job are simple. Remove four nuts along with the collection of assorted washers used as shims for the cap nuts and some threaded bolts that hold the antenna mount to the plate. Right under the plate is a commodious pull to the console. So far so good and less than fifteen minutes have been expended and then everything went to hell in a hand basket.

This should be a piece of cake job. It's not like I haven't encountered this scenario before but it begs two points. First when you install something on a boat you should anticipate that someday you will have to remove it. Secondly although not intuitive you can do things too damn well and this is a case in point.

Friday, July 22, 2016

If you can imagine it, it's already happening

How quickly is technology advancing? The answer is exponentially. I used Gorp as an example paddling across a river on a floating log around 10,000BC. The bolt of mental lightning had struck. Gorp no float. Log float. Gorp sit on log and float. It would be another couple thousand years, and many toes lost to piranha before the log was hollowed out by Urp to make a canoe. The reality is an early man was probably using crude boats made from reeds and bamboo much earlier than this, they just didn't survive through the ages to prove it.

The point of the diagram is to show the relative rate of technological change. In my graph, it took Gorp about 5000 years to evolve from paddling to figuring out you could use the wind and save the calories. Looking back from today's perspective it seems it should have been obvious, but it was a long hard slog to get there. Gorp only had stone tools and they weren't exactly precision devices. The weaving of fabrics is still over 5000 years away in Gorp's far future when the first sailboats will finally appear. Crikey, we didn't have the practical tools to make boats out of wood planks until the Bronze age when the rocket scientists of the day started producing tools out of metal. This was 7000 years later in Gorp's future to come. Things started to move much faster when we learned to write things down saving the information we have learned. The printing press sped things up too.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A couple of small epiphany's in a day in the life.

It was a bemusing and somewhat vexing problem that at first blush was all caused by a watch. It's 5ish in the afternoon on a Saturday and I'm clutching an adult beverage at a function when the phone rings. I stare at the magic box doing it's best to attract my attention. I sigh and take the call. It's a local Captain who is taking a boat way offshore on Monday and his autopilot is now kaput ostensibly caused by a Garmin Quatix watch. This is a new one to me and he now has my attention.

He launches into the saga. He has a original Quatix watch, and tried to connect it to the autopilot while underway. The autopilot immediately freaks out, and has to be put in standby to get control of the boat. The watch is disconnected from the system and he attempts to reengage to autopilot. The odd thing is now the autopilot seems fine until you engage it. Instead of doing its "Otto Pilot" thing it now pops up the "Shadow Drive" is on message and does nothing else. What this normally means is the helm has been manually turned, the autopilot thinks you want control of the boat, and gives it to you. This isn't supposed to happen when you first engage it, and I have never seen one do this. I agree to visit the boat on Sunday morning to see what can be done and will bring the latest software with me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Electronics Undertaker

I've been dealing with marine electronics for a long time and now recognize when death is close at hand. More likely it's emulating Norman Bates's mother who's telling the owner to call me. As a matter of fact I can sense the miasma of burned electronics through the phone during the call. The quavering desperation in the callers voice. The hesitant answers to questions like "When was the last time you used it?" "Hmmm, you don't remember?" "What model is it?" "Whoa, that's old, those vacuum tubes are really hard to find nowadays." What it's a sailboat? That means the radar is on the mast and the use of the bosun's chair along with someone with a strong back."

The coup de grâce in the conversation is the ever hopeful, "It could just be a loose wire you know." My inside voice is saying "sure buddy, but it's not statistically likely, and you should have called Hospice for this gear a long time ago." I hate these service calls. I will have to call the time of death and everyone is going to be unhappy including me. Like this is all my fault.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Hello, my name is Bill and I was once a pontoon boat hater. In days of yore they were ugly. Floating boxes largely devoid of hydrodynamic properties milling around on the waterfront at withering speeds of 6 or 7 knots with a geriatric crew. This has all changed. They're sleek, fast, safe and loaded with amenities. Corian counter tops, BBQ grills, bars, refrigerators, thumping stereos, and plush seating for the multitudes. Look at this curvaceous model with the arch. I don't know what those ports are on the bow are all about. Either they are intakes for the turbine engines or gun ports but they certainly look purposeful. The quality of design and construction is orders of magnitude better than it was a decade ago, almost.... You see I still have a small beef about most of these vessels.