There's much to report about my three day visit with Raymarine's impressive product development team, but the impromptu kicker was a visit to HDML (Harbour Defense Motor Launch) #1387, and the vessel's key story couldn't be more timely. 70 years ago yesterday, well before D-Day H-Hour, 1387 headed toward Normandy loaded with electronics that helped her crew precisely mark the planned final channel to Omaha Beach, first for the minesweepers and then for the vast fleet of landing craft that left Portsmouth behind her. And today she's headed for France again, this time with an all-volunteer crew led by Alan Watson, the gentleman who so kindly showed me around last evening.
"Pretty cool...ESPN says one of the greatest upsets in sports history!" my brother-in-law emailed me last night, and he's a guy who knows who pitched World Series games decades ago and how well, but bupkis about the America's Cup. Yes, indeed, AC34 was incredibly unpredictable and exciting, but I'll argue that the winners all along were the teams who made the race management, umpiring, and broadcasting so innovative and so effective...
This was my view from a borrowed mooring on Saturday night, and it was quite a nostalgic one as my one and only transatlantic was sailed aboard this very same Nautor Swan 59 from the Canary Islands to Martinique in December, 1984. It's hard to believe how very techy the boat's electronics seemed at the time, how much they've changed since, and yet how old school they look today...
This, friends, is a screen shot from a circa 1980's Offshore Systems PINS 9000 digital chart system. And it's a rare image indeed. One of the odd things about the fast moving world of electronic charting is how ephemeral it is. To get the best historical sense of what early digital chart plotting was like you really need the hardware powered up on a moving vessel, or at least connected to some simulated inputs. But the truth is that even decent photographs and/or screen shots of early plotters are hard to find. That's the problem Dr. Heloise Finch-Boyer of the UK National Maritime Museum has run into, and I'm hoping that some Panbo readers can help her...
This graph is a thermal sensor manufacturer's dream -- and was, in fact, created by the marketing department at FLIR -- but, hey, that's us way over to the right. I'd love to see the price of thermal cameras go so low, and unit volume so high, that "most cars/boats/ships" have them. Like GPS, once you understand how well the technology works, you want to have it aboard. I remember well the Magellan Nav 1000 (below), which seemed totally magic 20 years ago, but was actually quite crude and cost over $1,000...
Check out this recent entry in Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors great series of retro ads. It dimly reminded me of autopilots on the old fishing boats I spend time around in Gloucester, Mass., back in the late 70’s. Some were still using strange schemes to derive electrical signals from a tradition card-in-fluid compass, like a light shining through a hole in the edge of the card to a series of photo-electric cells arrayed in a circle beneath. The Photo-Electric Pilot didn’t make it to the Internet, but I did come across this amazing bit of related marine electronics history:
That’s not just an old drawing, it’s a sketch submitted to Mercantile Marine Magazine in 1858 by the chief mate of the ship Forerunner, and it’s accompanied by a detailed description of the spout (height of foam at base: 50’), the Southern Ocean conditions that produced it, and how Forerunner got out of its way! Mate Fletcher’s goal, of course, was to help fellow sailors understand water spouts better, and maybe brag a bit. I came across this bit of history in the most modern and wonderful way. I was Googling the name of a certain European lighthouse that might appear in one of PMY’s photo/chart contests, and one link I got was to the Google Books version of MM Magazine’s 1858 bound edition. And, mercy be, all 384 pages are searchable, downloadable, and fascinating.
To heck with all the 2007 “best of…” lists, let’s reminisce. It’s 1984, the 47’ sloop Civais has just joined the list of new builds at the Paul Luke yard in Boothbay, Maine, and she’s sporting about as spiffy an electronics package as I recall from the era. Check the bigger picture here. That’s an International Offshore digital depth sounder and alarm at upper left, a back up perhaps to the Raytheon combination flasher and recording fathometer at the upper right. There’s also a Furuno CRT radar, with hood, just above the Trimble Navigation Loran C unit. Stacked just to their right, starting at the top, is a Stephens Engineering AM/SS radio telephone, a Magnovox satellite navigator (Transit, not GPS), and some sort of VHF radio (can’t make out the brand). Finally there’s weather fax (Alden?) and some sort of box that might be an antenna switch or tuner. And I dare say there are some spiffy old instruments in the cockpit. I doubt that any one piece of gear talks to any other, via NMEA 0183, 2000, Ethernet, or any other protocol. The good old days? Nah, but easier to get your installer head around. This photo is another from the great Red Boutilier Collection, courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum. More can enjoyed at MaineBoats.com. Reminisce!
PS On the book shelf is one of the better—and certainly the most humorous—star finding books I know, The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey (yes, the same man who created Curious George). And it’s still available.
My buddy CharterWave Kim took these shots at an Italian charter boat show, and I thank her for passing them to Panbo. Najade’s dishwasher-size radar is an oldish
1965 Furuno FR2010, which apparently still works fine…at least after its three minute warm up. Furuno may even still have parts (tubes!?) for it. That’s a Furuno policy that many owners appreciate almost as much as the performance. I mention it because I was bit shocked last week to see a Raymarine customer note stating that they are “sorry to say but we can no longer repair or provide parts for the ST 80 system.” Which seemed pretty harsh, as the customer says he installed his ST 80 instruments new in 2001.
The mother hen of sailing blogs, Proper Course, is running an interesting project. Tillerman is inviting other bloggers to post entries about their worst sailing mistake, which he’s link to, creating a sort of master list of disasters. Well, yours truly firmly believes in the value of learning from the mistakes of others, and has made so many his own self that he’s hard put to pick a “worst.” Maybe this one; even though it took place a very long time ago, I remember one moment in the following true tale as though it were yesterday—shiver me timbers—and am fairly certain that I’ve been a better navigator ever since:
I believe it was sometime in October, 1972,