January 2006 Archives

Lowrance NauticPath, the rock problem

Jan 31, 2006


I’ve done more testing of the Lowrance ExplorerC handheld, and still like it a lot, but there are some real issues with the NauticPath charts. The main one is the absence of “obstructions that sometimes cover/uncover”, i.e. the damn rocks marked with asterisks on the paper chart below! Compare the two charts—soundings, bathy lines, high and low tide shore lines are all exactly the same…but rocks that may be just below the surface at any tide have vanished from the NauticPath (though I’m quite sure they were in the original Transas chart database). Those asterisk symbols are critical information, and they seem to be missing from NauticPath wherever I look around the country. The same is true on the LCX-111C downstairs, with a different copy of NauticPath on its hard drive, though on that machine the aids to navigation do not show double as they do on the Explorer (above). At any rate, I dare say the folks at Lowrance may be a little distracted right now, but I am going ask if they intend to put the rocks back in NauticPath.


Simrad buys Lowrance, very, very interesting

Jan 30, 2006


Weird! I was just writing an entry giving Lowrance some grief about their NauticPath charts, when a stock trading friend of mine called. “What the hell is going on with Lowrance?” says he (as I had once suggested LEIX as a possibly good investment). After a few minutes a release came up on Business Wire, excerpted here:

Simrad Yachting AS and Lowrance Electronics, Inc. (Nasdaq:LEIX) announced today that Simrad Yachting has agreed to acquire all of the outstanding shares of Lowrance for $37 per share… Darrell Lowrance, the current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lowrance who founded the company in 1957 and is still its largest shareholder, will become the Chief Executive Officer of the combined company. Jan Berner, the current Chief Executive Officer of Simrad Yachting, will become Deputy Chief Executive Officer and lead the integration work.

Wow, Simrad and Lowrance are quite the combination…I’m still reeling over the implications. One thing I’m feeling very good about is the big kit of Lowrance gear that arrived for testing last week. I’ve been thinking for some time that Lowrance deserves more attention in the saltwater, bigger boat world, but my timing is really, really lucky. I also I think my buddy owes me a nice dinner out.

Weekend special: memorable boat names

Jan 28, 2006

MV Mental Services

Imagine the VHF calls! “This IS M/V Emergency Mental Services. How can we be of help?” This beaut is the yard boat of the very good humored Westerly Marina in Ossining, NY, seen on my Hudson cruise last fall. On closer inspection you’ll see that Marine Response Unit No. 10 probably once worked at Emergency Enviromental Services. Meanwhile, up the river in Newburgh, is a boat I would not like to vocalize on the radio. Just too stupid:

Ship Happens

Octoplex, using a computer to turn on a light bulb?

Jan 27, 2006

OctoPlex dual NMEA 2000 lines

If you checked out Octoplex yesterday you know it can do all sorts of fancy power management and monitoring tasks, but the more cynical might note that there’s a lot of electronic complications between you the boater and relatively simple tasks like turning on the lights! It’s smart then that Moritz Aerospace is pretty paranoid about what could go wrong with a system like this. Hence:

* OctoPlex uses not one but two of the DeviceNet physical networks specified by NMEA 2000 (shown above, and bigger here). This is rugged, heavily shielded cabling, and this also means that there are two CAN processors in each network node. OctoPlex uses the primary network all for itself and the secondary one to connect to other NMEA 2000 systems, but if the primary fails, the secondary can fill in. Both networks are constantly monitored.

* Even if both network lines completely fail, all active AC and DC breakers stay on and continue to protect their circuits. The DC breakers actually have redundant back up power supplies. The AC breakers, by the way, are actually manual ones actuated by solenoids because it’s not yet practical to do AC with a MOSFET.

* If a DC electronic circuit breaker should fail in the ‘on’ position—that is, ZAP, be delivering current after you turned it off—the system will know it and blow a secondary fuse.

That’s a lot of built-in protection and part of why OctoPlex is an expensive system meant for big boats like the Vikings and Hargraves it will first be seen on. But, geez, look at how conventional boat wiring is evolving, seen below on a medium size Hinckley. That’s some beautiful work, bigger here , but imagine the amount of labor involved. Imagine how hard it is to modify or trouble shoot! We are ready for an entirely new way to manage boat electricity, aren’t we?

Too many wires 


OctoPlex, the three cable boat, and NMEA 2000

Jan 26, 2006

Octoplex Schematic

I mentioned OctoPlex when it received a special mention at METS; now I’m trying to write a column about it and the whole coming revolution in marine power systems. It’s not coming easily, I’m way past deadline, and so this will be short! Here’s the deal: electronic circuit breakers combined with data networks like NMEA 2000 mean the end of conventional circuit breaker panels. The concept is often called “distributed power” but Nigel Calder also uses “the three cable boat” in a series of articles he’s done recently in Professional Boatbuilder, Sail, and Yachting Monthly (none, unfortunately, online, but look down this page for Nigel’s pithy answer to the question “should I try this now”)). In its simplest form plus and minus cables carry power around the boat, teeing off wherever needed to an electronic circuit breaker (ECB) which is controlled by the third (data) cable. ECBs are also known as MOSFETs and they’re complicated animals, but have features like the ability to constantly measure voltage and amperage and even modulate amperage (i.e. dim light circuits). Combine those features with networked, microprocessor-based switching—and, hey, you might as well throw in tank, bilge, etc. monitoring since you’ve already got the network and screens—and you start getting something as powerful as OctoPlex. Check out a much larger version of the schematic here. This system can automatically shed power loads, protect individual circuits against brown out, setup custom dimming programs, tell you if a nav light blows out, and so forth…sky’s the limit. But can things go badly wrong on the three cable boat? Hell, yes! Which is why OctoPlex is redundant every which way. More on that later.

Maximus, just what will 6 mill get you?

Jan 25, 2006


The listing is a little coy, but that’s definitely the mighty Maximus on the block for maximum millions. The equipment lists are interesting, but there are several items I can’t figure out, like:

Load Cell Pin Safe Ltd, 1 system
Falcon 16 emergency system Furuno, 1 
Man-overboard alert system Marine Alert, 1

Anyone? They also don’t list what software’s on the two laptops.

Maximus nav station 

Lowrance NauticPath charts, and holy cow handheld

Jan 24, 2006

Lowrance iFinder screen

Above is the NauticPath version of Abaco (right around Whale Cay), not any better detailed than the boat’s older Navionics charts, but a bit easier to understand in color, even on a handheld. NauticPath uses the same Transas chart database that Garmin BlueCharts and Nobeltec Passport charts are based on, but both of the latter have upgraded to private data for the Bahamas. Still, Lowrance’s charts are useful, and an incredible value. You see the little $109 NauticPath chip in this handheld includes not just the Bahamas but the entire U.S. coast including AK, HI, and the Great Lakes. That really got the attention of my two shipmates, each of whom had a Garmin 76C. Which, of course, is a very good handheld, but charts for it have gotten quite expensive compared to Lowrance and others like Navionics Silver. (I wonder if Garmin will lower BlueChart prices for existing models?)

Lowrance’s handheld (bigger here) is a hell of a deal too. This is the new Expedition C, $309 retail with a 2.8” transflective screen and built-in electronic compass and barometric altimeter (with weather predictions). It will even play MP3 music files, though I don’t think you can do that and still use the NauticPath SD card as there is only one card slot. The screen is quite readable in all conditions, though I wish there was more than one level of backlighting to save batteries, and night vision, when it’s really dark. The unit is fast and its WAAS GPS performance is extraordinary, able to quickly and easily acquire a 3D position with just a plane window sky view. In short, about $400 gets you a pocket plotter ready to use anywhere in the U.S. and Bahamas. Amazing.

The charter cat's electronics, a little annoying

Jan 23, 2006


Here’s a closer view (bigger here) of the nav electronics at the “tank commander” helm of the Moorings 4200 charter cat. Frankly I was surprised that an expensive boat just a few years old only had a small grayscale plotter. The Raymarine RC425 seemed especially antiquated in Abaco, where the charts are tricky. I don’t think it was very quick to start with; today it seems positively sluggish. Plus it uses Navionics’ ‘Classic’ electronic chart format which was soon superseded by the better looking (even in monochrome) Gold format. Plus Navionics has recently added detailed private cartography to its Bahamas data (as has just about every chart vendor). Bottom line: almost all of the electronic charts I brought along were far more informative than the boat’s own.

The instruments and autopilot haven’t aged like the plotter, of course, but the speedo was also annoying. The paddle wheel was mounted in the starboard hull and only seemed close to accurate (compared to COG) on a  a port tack. For instance, above we were actually doing about 7.5 knots on this starboard tack broad reach (pleasant!). The windward hull wasn’t out of the water, not even close, but I guess the hydrodynamics change quite a bit from tack to tack, making for an impossible to calibrate situation, which of course screws up the ST60’s ability to calculate true wind. Is this common on multihulls? By the way, there was an interesting discussion a while back at rec.boats.electronics about the ST60’s inability to use COG to calculate true wind.

Hmmm…reading the above I sound sour today. Truth is I’m happy to be back in Maine, even with snow coming down, but I am behind work wise. Back at it.

Panbo in Abaco, technical difficulties

Jan 18, 2006

Abaco Tank Helm

Geez, do I regret bragging about how wired I am here in the Bahamas. It’s not the WiFi, which so far is omnipresent in the mooring fields. It’s the fact that the 12v power supply for my laptop decided to pack up, and this vessel has neither inverter or generator to run the 110 supply I also brought. I’m down to 43% here, and will lose my PC until I can get ashore again. So you’ll understand if I’m short. Above is the helm of our catamaran, which is off center and raised up above the huge cockpit. You have fairly narrow vantage point—like a tank commander—and can’t see the sails well at all, but it does make sense overall. The boat goes pretty good. Later!

Ben's big catamaran adventure

Jan 17, 2006


Well, would you believe that I’m writing this from the cockpit of the Leopard 42’ catamaran above, riding on a mooring at Great Guana Cay, Abaco, Bahamas? Uploading to Panbo via an ISP that’s nicely blanketed the cruising harbors in WiFi? Ha ha! Oh there was the hellish getting here, which included a pre dawn Sunday drive through a sleet storm and idiot me forgetting his passport, which caused a lay over in a grungy Ft. Lauderdale Econolodge, then USAir temporarily ‘misplacing’ the passport my dear wife had driven to Portland and put on a plane. Ah, but did I mention that I’m sitting in shorts and a t-shirt as the sun comes up? So the deal here is that I am attending an Offshore Sailing School Catamaran Live Aboard Cruising Course on behalf of Sail magazine. There’s one other student and an instructor, both fine guys, and I’m excited about sailing one of these beasts. I also brought along a lot of different electronic charts of this area to try out and compare. So, more later…if and when we stop in right place WiFi wise.