Summer projects & MNBB

Satori stays'l powered
Satori stays’l powered

The photo above was taken by my friend Colin while we were out sailing in March. The winds were peaking between twenty and twenty-five knots that day. Brent kept pushing me to put up more sail. Eventually I did but as they passed me, I thought about my capabilities to push Satori to her limits. I have a long ways to go…. It’s the weekend and I’m not out sailing. Satori is in need of a summer grooming. There is green algae growing on the teak exterior in places, the lockers were never cleaned very well and the forward berth is getting  a new mattress in a couple of weeks but has some mildew stains. It’s a nice window to get some long needed cleaning finished. The list of projects is still a mile long. When summer finally arrives, I will need to have enough canvas, electric fans and ventilation to keep the cabin cool. My pup Sasha stays on the boat while I’m sometimes away at work during the day and it’s a good enough reason to keep working on getting Satori ready for hot weather. While I was at Neah Bay last week there were some thoughts about comfort and living on a boat while anchored or under way. I did my best to make Satori as comfortable as possible but I also realized that there will be more work to do to get her comfortable while in the cockpit. She needs weather cloth and better cushions. I love her teak decks at the moment. There are no signs of rotting or leaking though the cabin-top so the wood will stay until it is no longer maintenance free. However, sitting on the teak isn’t comfortable for longer then a few minutes at a time. I have some ideas on vinyl exterior cushions and padded weather cloths so I will start the construction project soon. I may hire someone to build the cushions but I will take care of the canvas parts. As part of the energy saving effort and to ensure less maintenance, I also did an upgrade on all of my cabin light bulbs to LED. I still have four fluorescent tube style bulbs that I will be upgrading but it’s nice to see only .2 amps instead of 1.5 amps per light fixture after upgrading. Aside from the refrigerator, the lights are the biggest consumer of power so I will make sure they are reduced to draw the minimum possible. Of course, adding another 100 watt solar panel when the dodger is completed will help out as well. Later installing a wind generator will complete the off-grid efforts that will make Satori capable of going indefinitely without the need for supplemental energy from either the Yamaha generator or the motor. I hate the idea of consuming gasoline and will avoid it at all cost.

LED bulb
LED bulb

Another interest of mine, coming purely from the engineering and technical interest of marine navigation is being able to take advantage of what is available to us from an innovation perspective. People commonly ask if I can receive internet while on the sailboat. The answer is mostly yes, we can have varying degrees of connection at any given time. Currently while moored at the marina, I have access to Comcast high-speed internet at the usual cost for homes in the area. It provides excellent download and upload speeds and I have not experienced any outages while connected. While under way there are other options as well. If I am anchored near a shoreline that might be broadcasting wifi, it is possible to boost the signal and use it. I have something called a bullet and high-gain antennae that would hypothetically provide access. I have just recently installed it and very recently powered the system with the 12 volt house system. I did test the configuration but I wasn’t able to pick up anything that provided internet. I did pick up the entire marina’s individual wifi networks though. I could see signals from both the north end and south end and they were strong enough to pick up. I believe they are all closed networks however. Since I have my own wifi network, I will go ahead and use it to pass though the antennae. A more long-term project is to make my boat network much more usable. Currently I have four separate wireless networks; the Garmin chartplotter, the Vesper XB NMEA 0183 streaming network, the Comcast internet and finally the Ubiquity antennae piped into a D-Link network hub. The issue with this configuration is having to disconnect and reconnect each individual network to switch between different types of networks. I would like everything to be proxied  through one network. The next project under way is something I’m going to call MNBB for now until something else strikes me. The acronym stands for Mariners NMEA Black Box. The idea is to take a simple and easily configurable computer and stream NMEA data to it. The computer will listen to a network port and if it is streaming NMEA data, it will store it for analyzing. In case you’re unfamiliar with NMEA I will break it down simply for you. It is a standard or protocol that your boat instruments use to communicate with one another. A chartplotter uses NMEA for it’s GPS coordinates and possibly to pick up AIS targets, not to mention weather, water heading and anything else that would be part of your marine instrument collection. Most of the marine products you would carry on your vessel are for displaying current information, like the current water temperature or your current heading. Navigation software can track your position and heading over a period of time and display your track and course through a virtual line on a virtual chart. It’s handy for looking at later to make better decisions about future trips in the same area but is quite limited for showing you what else that might have been part of your trip. For example, what was the wind direction and what direction were the currents going? How about the wind speed or barometric pressure? Generally you don’t have the privilege to see this because your software is probably limited. We are low level consumers of marine electronics and software and at the mercy of how they want you to use it. From a software engineering and project perspective, it would be fairly easy to make such an idea both cheap and dependable through the innovative and collaborative efforts of other engineers who might want to contribute to an open source project with a mission to circumvent the consumer electronics industry.

Rasberry Pi
Rasberry Pi

The idea came from a computer called a Rasberry Pi. It’s a simple and very compact computer that can handle something as simple as this. There are two components to the project: first is saving the data in a way that makes it easy to consume from a simple and customizable user interface. Since the data is easy to parse and store, there isn’t a lot of processing power needed. Since the Rasberry Pi computer can enact as a web server, we can easily use the same kind of user interface that you would be accustomed to in your every day life. No need to install any software, just connect to your boat network and request the url that hosts all of the different tools you can interact with. Anyone who has web skills and a little bit of database knowledge can write their own modules that would do whatever they wanted. For sailboat racers one could really have fun with the performance of their boat and compare the given information to make better decisions in the future based on the conditions for any previous race. Cruisers can take a look at information regarding weather that might teach them better decision making in the future. All of the data could even be shared between one another to create a crowd sources infrastructure of boating conditions. The greatest part of this project could be the cost to consumers who are not technically savvy to use it. Buy a Rasberry Pi, install a disk image and configure it to connect to the boat’s internet to get the NMEA data and then connect to the same network on any device that can connect to a wifi network and they simply type in a web address like, http://svSatori/ and there is your application. Obviously it would work as a website and the user does not need to understand anything about computers. Perhaps someone could charge a service to install these units for anyone who doesn’t know even the basics of modern computer technology. It’s an idea for now. The Rasberry Pi computer is $60 with a wifi dongle and case so there is very little investment to get the project started. Everything else is written in open source and readily available through the software community. I’ll post my progress on here once things get going. Finally, I wanted to mention the addition of some recreation gear. A play toy really. I live right next to the second most popular beach in Seattle and right now the weather is awesome. It doesn’t quite feel like Hawaii but I did paddle out along the beach on my new inflatable stand-up paddle board or iSup for short 🙂 It’s a fun way to get out of the marina and mess around in the water when there isn’t much wind but a lot of sun. I picked up the NRS Earl 4″ x 10’6″ model. This is versatile enough to take out on on actual surf but stable enough for flat water as well. A three-piece paddle is a nice addition for storability. The entire setup packs down into a small mesh backpack that can be stowed on Satori easily. There is a little concern about puncturing it, since I have already patched it once due to barnacles on the side of the dock but with more care I hope to avoid patching often. Either way, it’s a great addition to this live aboard lifestyle.

NRS Earl inflatable SUP
NRS Earl inflatable SUP
Werner Fiji paddle
Werner Fiji paddle