Pacific Northwest Winter

Winter sailing

It’s been since September since Satori has been out of the marina. The engine has been given her deserved TLC and much of the navigation and creature comforts have been nicely upgraded. I was hoping to have radar and a tiller pilot rigged before her first day out but I had the opportunity to take a crew along who have been getting out through the winter on ‘Strange Advice’ who lives at ‘K’ dock. The winds were supposed to kick up in the afternoon and I wanted the crew to enjoy a cozy and warm cruise, with the Dickenson running nice and warm to allow us to rotate in and out of the cabin in miserable rain and winds. We motored south towards Elliott Bay  and then at the point stopped to wait it out while we ate lunch and enjoyed the day down below. After being becalmed for a bit we noticed that she was actually moving a bit and so I took the tiller and trimmed the stays’l and main, leaving the jib down for now. There was a gale warning and so I even reefed once just to make sure if the front did hit us without warning that we were ready. After heading back and making a perfect score at docking her we hung out for a bit longer.

Colin took a little bit of film with his GoPro while the winds were going about 7 knots and posted it up on Vimeo.

sailing around elliott bay in tony’s westsail. from colin street on Vimeo.

We noticed that the winds did in fact kick up after we were already docked and they wanted to take out Strange Advice while the winds were good. Just a few minutes with a very efficient crew and they were already out of the slip and underway. It’s a drastic difference sailing with a sporty fin-keeled day sailer. Immediately I felt a little bit uncomfortable without a life jacket while heeled over in 15-20 knot winds flying the full genoa. I even barked to shorten sail while I was at the tiller, feeling too much torque on the rudder. On the way back we likely hit 25-30 knots of wind. I would liked to have reefed the main since they had jiffy reefing already rigged but that’s just because I like a more comfortable ride. I think the boat would have kept at her speed but wouldn’t have heeled at every gust. It’a fully battened main with pretty heavy duty canvas and there was no doubt the boat could handle it. I on the other hand….

The winds are gusting to 40 knots today. After having a nice day yesterday I woke up wanting to go out again but I’m mostly a fair weather sailor. I think I’ll wait until it’s over 50 degrees at least and bring warmer clothes next time. Maybe by then I’ll have that tiller pilot finally up and running to test out. Here’s to the first sail of 2014. Cheers.


Electrical Navigation Presale Winter

Seatalk / NMEA 0183 / NMEA 2000

When I first started sailing I never thought about what kind of information you needed to navigate a vessel. My eyes, ears and senses seemed like enough to take a boat out to sail. Now being a boat owner and having been through some fun and interesting scenarios and then imagining other future scenarios has caused me to rethink what would be useful to help me navigate around the world. I really have no idea what would be needed but I can imagine different places and the different ways of navigating that I’ll probably need. Having depth is handy but wouldn’t being able to get a three-dimensional image of the bottom to know you’re in a good anchorage be nice? Maybe trying to get into an obscure lagoon that requires some interesting ways of avoiding reef obstacles. Perhaps just being able to see on a radar obstructions ahead that I can’t see due to fog or adverse weather would be nice. Having the ability to hail a vessel that might be on a collision course with me would be nice. Embracing technology is great but then what happens when one or many of your instruments fail?

I really don’t like to think about being without depth, GPS or a compass to help me and all of the other instruments stay on course and protected from running aground. I do know that if I can get them all speaking the same language I will have a pretty awesome navigation system. When I bought Satori she came with an old Magellan GPS Chartplotter that was also able to take the instrument data and display it on the multifunctional display. When I turned it on, not only was it not able to connect to the GPS but it also had no preloaded map cards so I removed it. Satori did have a VHF radio, depth, water temperature, wind speed and direction and a compass that spoke the Seatalk language and those were displayed on the face of the companionway for viewing in the cockpit. There was also a speed over water sensor but it wasn’t functional. I brought an iPad, iPhone, a bluetooth GPS and installed a new VHF radio that had an AIS receiver but I discovered that the AIS receiver needed a GPS connected through a NMEA 0183 network from another device that could deliver the coordinates to display AIS targets.  After two weeks of navigating with an iPad, I realized that it’s a great way to navigate along with the cockpit displays and something called an ‘auto helm’ in the navigation area of the cabin. I could anchor and monitor my depth and also track my position and set an anchor alarm to make sure I didn’t drag anchor. When the GPS disconnected from the iPad I would switch to my iPhone and use iNavX with the built-in GPS and also as a backup to monitoring my position. I knew that using a smartphone and tablet was not a good way to be precise but it actually did a great job even if it wasn’t completely dependable. It worked well using Garmin’s BlueChart mobile iPad app as it used vector graphics instead of raster, which is much easier to view and also the chart icons of buoys and any other useful navigation points displayed the information about each point (icon) such as if a buoy had a light and what the flashing interval and color was. Also having depth and mooring buoys on the chart was very helpful. The only time I wished I had more was when I was motoring at six knots in the fog or at night. It was then that I decided why radar would be useful. Since most of my winter has been working on plumbing and the temperatures have been pretty cold I have held off from getting my navigation setup, until now.

One thing that finally took after many months of learning about it is how all of the instruments interface. I already have a Seatalk network for wind speed, wind direction, heading (compass), depth, water temperature and speed over water. I also have a nice radio that can identify AIS targets and allow me to hail another AIS target vessel by simply pushing the ‘call’ button on the VHF radio. What I really wanted was the ability to be seen by another vessel. I knew radars can trigger a ‘radar beacon’ whereas my radar becomes a transponder for any other radar. With the combination of Racon and AIS I would show up to most vessels and then the other pleasure-craft I could use my own radar to discover and avoid. Since my old multifunctional display was tossed, I spent part of the winter researching the best way to get all of my navigational equipment talking to each other. How can I still use my iPad and the Garmin Bluechart mobile app but also be able to see radar and AIS targets? Bring on the Vesper Marine AIS transponder and GPS with wifi. By sending all of the other Seatalk and NMEA 0183 data to it, the transponder can act as a gateway to any NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000 wired network and any app that uses wifi to collect NMEA data. Add a multiplexer to take all data from all sources and pipe them into one output, to the transponder which can then send the data further to NMEA 2000 and wifi.

I chose the new Garmin 820 as my multifunctional display, and later if I want I can add the best sonar technology available for consumers and then also connect an HD radar to it. The display also has a wifi networking ability that can speak to it’s own Bluechart apps. Not only can I use iNavX but also the Garmin BlueChart apps and both receive all of the data from all other devices. It’s a great solution and has a nice upgrade path for future-proofing the setup. Since I have this all figured out I thought it would be handy to explain how it all hooks up.

NMEA 0183 basics, talking and listening

The most important part of understanding how NMEA 0183 works is simply by the talk/listen protocol. Simply put, if I’m a NMEA 0183 compatible device then I can listen and possibly use another compatible device that is NMEA 0183 compatible. Hopefully that device will have what the other device needs. Here is where the problem lies: If one of my devices needs data from more than one other device then I have a communication bottleneck. Since a single device can only listen to one other device then I need a way to collect that data. This is the job for a multiplexer. The multiplexer can listen to up to four devices, collect the data into one data stream and then talk to up to six other devices (two outputs, three devices each). The one I installed can also take Seatalk so the multiplexer’s job really is to translate all “conversations” into two languages: NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000. Send that data back to a wifi transmitter and you can connect any smartphone, tablet or computer to it and any app that communicates with NMEA 0183 data can display it for navigation. It’s really not too complicated once you understand the protocol (can  listen to only one, can talk to up to three). Then the only other thing to understand is the need to connect a shield from the output of any NMEA 0183 along with the negative and positive leads. When connecting to an input the shield will not have a place to connect so it can be omitted.

Powering the multiplexer with Seatalk

I am powering the multiplexer using a cable that is “daisy-chained” from another Seatalk device. In this case I use the red Seatalk wire as the positive NMEA input in input number 4a under “NMEA In” and the Seatalk yellow wire as the input number 4b. I also need to add the red wire to the 12v input and then the shield wire in the ground input. This will both power the multiplexer but also allow for it to collect data and transmit it to it’s outputs. My problem lies with when I want to simply run the VHF yet have it still be able to list AIS targets without using the multiplexer, which happens to depend on the seatalk network, which turns on the sounder, speed/water temperature sensor, wind sensor and compass instruments. So to eliminate the dependency I will build a bypass that can accept the AIS transponder data and can also be powered by the radio circuit. A  switch will solve this issue. It’s not imperative right now but will certainly have some benefit while counting amps.

Gathering other NMEA 0183 Talker Data

I’m only connecting two devices aside from the Seatalk that I will want to use as part of the network. First is the VHF radio and I will only want the DSC data since the AIS transponder will also have data from other AIS transmitters (targets). For the AIS transponder I want to collect both GPS and AIS transmission data. So the combination of Seatalk, transponder and VHF I have the following data: depth, water temperature, wind speed, wind direction, heading, speed over water, DSC, AIS and GPS. To output the talking portion of the multiplexer I simply use a 4-row dual-jumper terminal block to distribute each output to up to three other units. If you’re going to do this install, I suggest that you find bulk NMEA 0183 cable that has an exposed shield cable as this does not exist with NMEA 2000 or Seatalk 1,2 & NG. It may be difficult to find and I don’t know a source. I just repurposed the long Vesper Marine cable that came with the transponder and shortened it and then connected it to a terminal block and then connected the cable to the VHF radio to extend the NMEA 0183 length to reach the multiplexer. Do not make the mistake of getting a serial bus multiplexer. Either get a USB, wifi or bluetooth version to simplify configuring the device. I did make the mistake and sat there with the opened package wondering how I was going to take three bare cable plugs and get the unit to talk with my computer via USB. Why didn’t I just buy a USB version?

NMEA 0183 vs NMEA 2000 

The biggest issue with NMEA 0183 isn’t just the ‘talk up to three times  but only listen once’ scenario but also the wiring scheme. NMEA 0183 usually takes only two wires to send and another two to receive per unit. There is also a need for shielding the listening circuit without needing to shield the talking cables. Usually you can bypass this when the unit is sending both talking and listening cables to a multiplexer and distribution block, or when only two units are interacting but either may not be the case. I have a tiller pilot that serves no purpose except for listening in on the talking circuit but I need to shield the cable I send to the pilot. Try searching for 22 gauge marine shielded wire. Most likely you’ll end up buying 4, 6 or even 8 conductor cable and lobbing off all but two or four conductors at the end and pay more than $1 per foot. You may even go with unshielded cable, two strands of red/black but this could have issues.

NMEA 2000 plays much better. There are universal plugs that work on every device similar to USB which powers the unit and exchanges data for every attached unit. They call it a ‘backbone’ which is a multi talk/multi listener network that takes care of both shielding, communication and power. If you have three units you simply need to ‘T’ off for one of the units similar to the way plumbing works. You can buy cables in just about any length in increments of six feet and it really is plug and play technology. The way I am able to get NMEA 2000 is through the Standard Horizon transponder and the only unit so far that needs it is a chartplotter. I am not certain yet but I believe I can also send waypoints all the way from the chartplotter to the tiller pilot, which is on NMEA 0183 or Seatalk if I choose to power the pilot on the same circuit as the rest of the Seatalk components.

MMSI, Ship Station License and Call Sign

I suppose I could post about this elsewhere but I figure this is as good of a place as any. If you’re new to the whole AIS/DSC technology and are ready to take the plunge, DO NOT get your MMSI number from BoatUS unless you’re NOT planning on using a call sign for ship-to-ship hailing. I made the mistake of getting my MMSI when I bought my VHF radio but didn’t realize that the unit needed GPS to view AIS targets. Later when I bought the AIS transponder and then decided to get a dedicated call sign or better put, a ship station license from the FCC, I had already locked the MMSI numbers into the radios so I had to send both units back for reprogramming. The ship station license was about $160 and lasts for 10 years before needing to renew. It’s also transferrable to another person in case you ever sell your vessel and you can add your EPRB number so the FCC has your communication ID’s tied together.

What’s Next? Black Box – Crowdsourced

One of the issues I have with the NMEA data networks is the lack of simple low energy black boxes. How hard is it really to program a unit to save the NMEA data to a solid state disk like an SD card? If I had a way to upload the data to my computer I could track all of my routes, watch the weather/wind trends much closer, follow my course and even log the AIS targets. Some of the information could be handy to publicize my routes but data like DSC positioning could be crowd sourced for tracking all AIS broadcasting targets throughout the world. Currently the only way to track a vessel is with radio towers on shore but being able to send your own course and other AIS targets that you receive could prove useful for getting a better history of where all broadcasting vessels were located at any given point when another vessel is within the receiving range. With Paxor technology you could also send a limited set of your NMEA data to shore via SSB radio so the shore network can track your position and vessel condition at all times. It’s possible but just not quite there yet and whoever develops the infastructure will do us all a great service. For now I will see if a Raspberry Pie computer can keep a log of a subset of NMEA data that my NMEA components produce so I can later mess around with building visualization tools from the data. Something most salty dogs could care less about but modern pups can enjoy.

Anyways, I spilled my thoughts so others can hopefully learn about this process. I hope is was useful for newbies like me. Next is getting radar installed, solar keeping my batteries charged and SSB radio for long distance communication.

Electrical Engine Repairs Winter

Go Hawks! New Bilge Pump & Muffler Installed!

It’s been a great season for Seattle’s football team. Right now at halftime they are ahead by 15-0. The twelfth man is everywhere in Seattle. On Friday every other person was wearing their support jerseys and colors, flags and banners flew in every other business and on top of the downtown buildings. We have come so far Seahawks!

Another achievement has been unlocked this weekend as well. I installed the muffler and started the engine for the first time in three months. So far everything looks and works great. Not a drop of water leaked inside of the engine compartment and there is no exhaust except on the outside of the boat, which means she’s ready to wander again. I might do an oil and coolant change before I start taking Satori around the Sound again. I am not going to take Satori out until I have an autopilot I did just finish with some major projects. This morning when I turned the forced air and the stove fans on the temp rose to 76 degrees inside the cabin while it was 32 degrees outside. Fog rolled in as well so I opted to hang out and watch the game. Plus I did some electrical changes to eliminate having to turn the sensors on to flush the toilet. Now all of the pumps are on the same circuit, which is much better. I also relabeled the electrical panel to make more sense of the switches. There are some that I am still puzzled as to what they do, if anything at all. I bought a labeler to label the wire and terminal blocks so I can begin drawing out the schematic of Satori’s electrical system. One of the biggest assets of a major overhaul is a well planned execution. Understanding where every wire goes is the only way to do it right. It’s going to take some time so I’ll hold off until I know what to do. Until then, inventory away.

Epson Labelworks Labeler

Another project I was able to finish on Saturday was the new backup bilge pump. I had plenty of time to figure out a good plan on a solid solution. I removed the old manual pump which was mounted in the engine compartment and I was pretty confident that it needed to be rebuilt so swapping for another automatic made sense. I replaced the old bilge hose with new hose and then attached it to the new pump so I didn’t have to make any new holes in the boat. The new pump is mounted just above the little guy and switches on right before it spills over into the center bilge. The idea being that if the little 800 GPH pump cannot keep up and the second one switches on they are both working together to pump water from the boat. The upper bilge also has a bilge alarm which is installed in the engine panel in the cockpit. I was lucky that there was a universal mount I could use without having to drill any holes so I just needed to route the wires down into the bilge compartment. Once I had everything installed I did a quick test by filling the bilge with water. With the lower pump turned off I could test and see that the upper pump was turned on right when it is supposed to. Then checking both to make sure nothing blows and the test should be good enough for the real thing.

The old manual bilge pump in need of a rebuild.
The old manual bilge pump in need of a rebuild.
Both bilge pumps installed. Total of 2800 gph (minus head)
Both bilge pumps installed. Total of 2800 gph (minus head)

I have already ordered both a rebuild kit for the Jabsco diaphragm pump I replaced with the VSD pump and I hope to use the diaphragm pump for draining the center bilge and kitchen sink once I have it rebuilt. I still need to figure out where it will be mounted. Space in the engine compartment is getting scarce and I will need room for a water maker and wash down pump as well in the future. I have a rebuild kit coming for the Whale 25 manual bilge pump so I can rig a portable and storable bilge pump that I can use for whatever I need and keep it stowed out of the way with some long hose attached that will allow me to lead the inlet down into the cabin from the cockpit and then enough hose to pump the water overboard. I can have a final backup manual pump ready for if Satori is taking on water and the electricity is out of commission.

I also finally made some sense of the NMEA 0183 protocol and will be sharing that once I have the multiplexer installed this week. It was very confusing at first but once I learned what talk and listening ports were capable of doing it all made sense. Apparently NMEA 0183 electronics can talk to up to three other devices but can only listen one other device. My dilemma is that I need to take my GPS data from the AIS transponder and send it to the VHF radio but also take the VHF radio’s DSC data and send that to the chartplotter but I also have Seatalk sensors that I would like to send to a chartplotter. Fortunately a multiplexer will solve this problem and I just purchased a Shipmodul Miniplex so I will be able to collect all of the data from the various devices and send it out over wifi and through a NMEA 2000 network to the chartplotter and radar.

Anyways, back to the game. Since the time of writing the Seahawks have scored again and now are leading 22-0. Go Hawks!!!


Update: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS are the SuperBowl Champions of 2014! I don’t watch football but I watch the SuperBowl when the Seahawks are winning 🙂