NMEA 0183 Fail + Great Sailing Weekend

I am the unfortunate soul who decided to take a brand new chartplotter and feed it converted NMEA 0183 data that was converted from Seatalk with a multiplexer. Heading is not getting picked up by the chartplotter.

Garmin GPSMap 820 showing heading but not picking up my NMEA 0183 heading data.
Garmin GPSMap 820 showing heading but not picking up my NMEA 0183 heading data.

The Garmin GPSMap is showing wind, true and apparent as well as depth and water temperature. I can see the heading NMEA sentence getting updated using the settings->NMEA0183->diagnostics view.

Garmin GPSMap 820 diagnostics view for NMEA 0183, showing heading
Garmin GPSMap 820 diagnostics view for NMEA 0183, showing heading

To make it even more annoying, a simple NMEA parser explains what it takes to parse the HCHDG sentence but Garmin’s brand new chartplotter does not seem to pick it up.

iNavX showing heading on both true and magnetic
iNavX showing heading on both true and magnetic
iNavX showing NMEA sentences with the same HCHDG that Garmin should be using
iNavX showing NMEA sentences with the same HCHDG that Garmin should be using

So why I ask is Gamin unable to do it when a pretty simple iPhone app is capable of parsing the same sentence into a compass heading? The funny thing is that I once reached out to Garmin because I wanted to work on their marine software because I liked Bluechart so much. Compared to iNavX I must admit that Garmin is not a good choice for getting NMEA data and AIS targets all into the same touchscreen, tappable view. They have a choice to take the data and send it to their Bluechart app and are losing a big opportunity to make the best navigation aid out there. iNavX wins but I’m not happy with raster charts. That’s why I like Bluechart so much, along with the tappable chart icons for objects like buoys, places to anchor or reefs. I feel a little more confident when navigating in the shallow waters with vector more than raster charts.

I have a chartplotter that has been upgraded thanks to the nice guy from technical support. Apparently Garmin normally charges $30 for sending an SD card with the update but since I was having issues with my NMEA heading and the update apparently had something to do with NMEA 0183 heading, he sent out an update card for free. I would have downloaded it but they only have Windows based updates and I’m on a Mac and haven’t gotten around to running a virtual Windows machine for this kind of scenario. Regardless, the software update didn’t do anything. I’m making this blog post to send to him so he can get his software engineers to fix the problem for me.

Since I don’t have a radar hooked up yet and I have iNavX working great on the iPad, I left the chartplotter off the whole time while sailing this last weekend.

Satori hauled to the wind in Puget Sound near Blake Island
Satori hauled to the wind in Puget Sound near Blake Island

My friend Brent and I spent the weekend out at Blake Island, sailing is great winds. We had anywhere from 5 to 20 knots with the most exciting moments in the evening while sailing on a broad reach towards Lincoln Park. We anchored in deep water and bounced around from the boat traffic so the next day we moved a little closer to shore. We still felt plenty of boat traffic, especially the big ones coming up from Tacoma past Vashon Island. Here is our track from Friday through Saturday.

Satori anchored at Blake Island
Satori anchored at Blake Island

Sunday was really wet and rainy the whole time. It became worse towards late afternoon but the sailing was still enjoyable. We did wing-on-wing heading home and I was having an issue with the jib backwinding on occasion. We were tracked from Blake all the way home. Here is our track for Sunday’s ride home.

Satori in a Puget Sound downpour, cruising at 5 knots
Satori in a Puget Sound downpour, cruising at 5 knots

I never managed to get the solar panels working so I had to use the portable gas generator to keep the batteries charged. We enjoyed warm water since we were pulling AC power and were able to connect as shore power. Also, the tiller pilot works great. It failed only when I would expect it to, like when the sails are not balanced properly on a downwind run or when there isn’t enough steady wind to keep it pointed straight. Also, I did try to do an entire lap around the island with the pilot but reverted to steering for a bit when things went awry. Once was because we were close to a lee shore and I didn’t feel comfortable falling off towards shore. A little too risky for me I guess.

I still really need to get the solar system running so I don’t have to use the generator (except for an occasional shower). Otherwise most of the other issues we had aren’t even worth mentioning. It was a great weekend to enjoy some classic PNW sailing in the Sound.

 

UPDATE:

After spending close to thirty minutes today in a phone conversation, it seems that I am actually getting the heading data but the screen that I expected to show it isn’t intended to show magnetic compass heading. If you have a Garmin chartplotter you might have thought that the instruments->compass view would show magnetic heading but it does not. The only place you would see magnetic compass is on the chart view when configuring the small corner displays and the compass rose around the icon indicating your vessel. I honestly didn’t even look there because…well, the compass screen should show magnetic heading. That begs another question; why would I want to show GPS heading in the compass screen? I don’t know what Garmin was thinking. Regardless, the issue is no longer and I can rest on the chartplotter problem. 

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.

 

Embracing Winter

I’m still pecking away at the bathroom but am down to just a few touchup tasks. The final coat of varnish, countertop paint and the port light wall just needs to be complete. Otherwise I get to rest on the bathroom project. I’ve been thinking a lot about some other projects and have tinkered on what to do next. Instead of disassembling the stove I decided to connect the fuel line and get it running just to help out with keeping the boat warm when I’m there working. The other night it was about 25 degrees and I was able to get the cabin up to 70 after killing most of the draft coming from the companionway. I was also able to make swapping out the bilge pump and switch by adding a terminal block. This kind of modification taught me that terminal blocks are most definitely the way to go over butt connectors. Primarily because it’s very easy to swap out a component such as a pump, radio or whatever without needing to cut the existing wires running to the panel but also because it’s very easy to see corrosion and remedy it when necessary.

The bilge pump terminal block tucked high and out of the way
The bilge pump terminal block tucked high and out of the way

Yesterday I took the pup and a friend up to Snow Lake at Snoqualmie Pass. Once thing we have going for us Seattle folk is the ease of getting out into the wilderness. An hour from home is a winter wonderland and although the conditions are bitter cold up there, it’s also sunny and snowy. It’s nice to embrace what we have and take advantage of the weekends for getting outside. Before my obsession with sailing I spent much of my time as an alpine climber and skier which naturally goes well with sailing. I have an arsenal of knots and understanding of rope mechanics, I have a decent understanding of weather and am not put off by remoteness or self sufficiency. The primary differences I can tell is how important it is to be mechanically inclined and be able to repair or replace anything on a sailboat without having to pay someone else to do it, aside from making a brand new sail. Even then, I’ve seen several examples of people sewing up their own sails from a kit.

An icy day up at Snoqualmie Pass
An icy day up at Snoqualmie Pass
Friend and pup on the way to snow lake
Friend and pup on the way to snow lake

Today I’m going to head down to Satori and start working on the engine. The muffler has seen better days and it seems to be the only issue with the engine right now aside from some corrosion in the seawater cooling system. Hopefully it’s a simple task to remove the old muffler and get a new one made. I am dreading getting the boat warmed up but at least it’s sunny outside and the Olympics are within view.