May 2006 Archives

Super Cheater, do they make 'em like they used to?

May 30, 2006

Audacity Super Cheater copyright Panbo

Would you be surprised to learn that Audacity's electronics are minimal? Actually just a venerable Garmin 48  at the chart table and this fabulous Aqua Meter Super Cheater Tournament depth flasher in the aft companionway (bigger here). I had a flasher like this in the 70’s and they work darn well. Like an analog watch, it only takes a few brain cycles to keep track of depth on that big round dial (15 feet in this case). Plus it’s simple as pie; left button switches between the two ranges, right button controls gain and on/off. But it’s hard to see fish on these things and darn funny to think of one as a fisherman’s “Tournament Super Cheater”, but then again the similar Lowrance’s famous Fish-Lo-K-Tor was a million seller. Actually, there’s at least one company, Vexilar, still making flashers, though they look a little more sophisticated than this.

Memorial Day, "Don't let the bastards grind you down"

May 29, 2006

Audacity changes hands

It’s Memorial Day here in the States, and frankly a tough one, given what peril and mess we’ve put our military into. But I will show the flag with pride. I took this particular shot, bigger here, a week ago in Rockport, Maine, as two dear friends held a party to say farewell to Audacity, a wooden schooner they’d owned for 28 years. I first met Max and Lavana in the spring of 1980 in St. George, Bermuda, as they were completing a North Atlantic circumnavigation, and it was a great pleasure to have them eventually move to my town. Inspirational too, as right up until last week they were still sailing this 51’ boat just the two of them, and doing all maintenance. Here they’re striking the colors for the last time and about to hand the flag to the new owner. It was very sweet moment.

One feature that the original owner of Audacity installed in 1971 is the carved aphorism below. It may be mock-Latin, but it too seems pertinent to the holiday. 

Audacity non carborundum

The solid state disk (SSD), gotta be good for marine electronics

May 26, 2006

Samsung SSD machines

Let’s see, according to the Samsung press release, that little 32 gig solid state drive (SSD) she’s holding, used in the new laptop and UMPC, can take twice the impact of a regular shock resistant laptop HD, reads 300% faster, and runs much cooler (meaning that its easier to waterproof the surrounding box). Of course it’s a little pricey now, but won’t these be useful around an electronic helm? (credit: Gizmodo)

What's up with Stidd, a "success disaster"?

May 25, 2006

Stidd gallery 5

The perfect complement to your ultimate helm full of screens and buttons? How about a plush leather Stidd chair…maybe even, as here, with joystick and trackball controls built right into the arm rests? Stidd virtually owns the high end helm seat market, but I’m sorry to report that something seems to be amiss. In fact, it’s not really the sort of story I like to cover, but when three independent and reliable sources voice similar concerns to me, all unsolicited, in just over three months, I feel obliged to speak up. 

First, an otherwise cheery megayacht captain showing off a major rebuild grumbled about how much trouble he’d had getting something like a $100,000 worth of Stidds, citing very poor communications and multiple failed delivery dates. Then a friend having a custom boat built called me out of the blue to ask if I knew anything about Stidd; he has a friend who raves about Stidd’s customer service, but this fellow’s boat builder couldn’t get straight answers about product availability, if his calls were returned at all.

When the owner himself stepped in, he claims he couldn’t get Stidd to take his check, let alone give him straight dope on product availability. He—quite experienced at business—is the one who suggested that Stidd, and its prospective customers, might be suffering through a “success disaster”. And he has purchased his chairs elsewhere. Finally an industry insider I mentioned these reports to allowed that his company has also had a tough time with Stidd…poor communications, unpaid bills, etc. Three strikes and you’re out? I don’t know about that, but it sure sounds like getting a fine Stidd chair has become a hassle.

GYM SIM, call me up in Liechtenstein

May 24, 2006

GSM SIM card

Global Yacht Mobile (GYM) is a new company whose first product is a pay-as-you-call SIM card service designed to help international voyagers manage their cell phone costs. $60 gets you the card with a phone number theoretically in Liechtenstein—apparently a principality that’s friendly to global cell talkers—and $20 of calling credit. You add credit to, or “top off” in Brit talk, the GYMsim using their Web site and your credit card. GYMsim claims significant savings over international roaming and also claims to be competitive with local country SIMs without the hassle of changing cards and numbers from country to country. All rates for some 121 nations are clearly spelled out, including special GYM-to-GYM discounts (hello megayacht crews), and supposedly there are no hidden costs whatsoever. Sounds good for voyagers, or even just scribblers who get to go on exotic press junkets once in a while.

Of course you need to have an unlocked GSM phone, preferably quad band, to use a GYMsim, which is exactly what I ended up with after my phone search a couple months ago. (I got a Motorola V190, above, not the smart phone I was dreaming of, but I like it). So I’m ready to try a GYMsim, which is “in the mail”, but meanwhile I’m curious what you all think of this service, or other ways to do cellular in foreign waters without nasty surprises?

NMEA 0183 wiring, why it bugs me

May 23, 2006

NMEA 0183 mess

OK, I admit that at least half of the hideous mess above is the fault of yours truly, being sloppy with a temporary install, in this case interfacing a DSC VHF, a GPS, and an AIS receiver all to a Garmin 3210 (possible because it has two 0183 ports, plus a NMEA 0183Northstar Stylespecial Garmin GPS port). But I also blame the standard itself, or non standard really, since there is no common plug, let alone standard wire colors (so you’re delighted to come across nice labelling like Northstar’s at right), or even a uniform nomenclature. Plus the typical bare wires are fine gauge, making them hard to handle and hard to secure strongly. Finally, the variable way the negative side of an 0183 data IN or OUT wire pair works—sometimes wired to its negative OUT/IN opposite, sometimes wired to ground, sometimes not wired to anything—further confuses things, and often  means that there’s a partial crossover between the power connection strip (upper left) and the data strip. The photo below, and bigger here, shows how this can all be neatly done, in this case by pros, but it’s still a bit fragile, I think, and it’s going cost you time or money. The chaos and complications of NMEA 0183 wiring make the rugged NMEA 2000 combined data/power cable scheme look very, very good.

NMEA 0183 pro job copyright Panbo

Comments comment, the damned spammers

May 23, 2006

Panbo’s often interesting comments section has been regularly filling up with spam drivel, despite all efforts to block it. So I’ve finally curtailed anonymous and immediate comment posting. Oh, you can still speak your mind (please do) without giving up your e-mail or anything else, but it won’t go up on Panbo until I’ve had a look at it. (By the way, please do include your e-mail and then I can contact you directly, sometimes useful; we will absolutely never misuse it).

I’m also working to enable a service called TypeKey, which identifies you to any site using Movable Type blog software while still letting you be anonymous if you wish. After their first post, TypeKey users will have their Panbo comments immediately approved and posted. 

Sea Tow Boston power cat, equipped to search, sort of

May 22, 2006

Sea Tow Boston electronics box copyright Panbo

This is the electronics box, bigger here, on Rescue 3, a 26’ Twin-Vee and the newest member of Sea Tow Boston’s fleet. This is the boat I got to ride around Boston Harbor on last week and here’s what I thought noteworthy about the above:

* Almost as expensive as the Raymarine C120 is the Simrad Taiyo TD-L1550 VHF direction finder. I’ve seen these on highliner sport fishing boats—for figuring out where the other guys are angling, especially the braggarts—but this was the first time I’d seen one in action. It’s impressively accurate, but Capt. Winkler and his team have to deal with the fact that oft times the VHF signals they get in the Harbor got to them on a bounce off the tall buildings on the waterfront. The Taiyo doesn’t know better, and points at the building.

* Notice the Raymarine Alphanumeric Keypad, a nice SeaTalk accessory that you don’t see that often. For Sea Tow the keypad is real help for quickly inputting a lat/long waypoint for someone needing help.

* With the keypad, the DF, and two Icom 502 VHF’s, not to mention Nextel push-to-talk cell phones, these guys are clearly equipped to find folks in distress, even if the folks can’t describe where they are very well. So wouldn’t you think they’d have the Icoms set up for DSC calls? Not yet, which surprised me. And I saw all sorts of signs—like the great Web cam and weather instruments—that Winkler runs a technically astute and customer responsive operation. I guess that there simply hasn’t been any demand for DSC. Will that change? 

Sea Tow Boston, the best harbor cam anywhere?

May 19, 2006

Sea Tow Boston Harbor Cam

It’s a pleasing coincidence that the best harbor cam I’ve ever come across happens to be in East Boston looking right at the waterfront where I’ve been staying recently. Not that this isn’t a fascinating harbor for anyone to peep around. If you have Java on your computer, you can take control of the camera and pan/zoom from the outer roads (left), all the way across downtown, and into Charlestown. There’s almost always something going on. I visited Sea Tow Boston yesterday, got a ride on one of their boats, and interviewed head man Steve Winkler. I’ll share some of the good stuff I saw and learned next week; have a nice weekend.

A waterproof cell phone, and the great Skype tease

May 19, 2006

Sony Ericsson SO902iWP

It was just introduced in Japan, so it may be some time before you can get your mitts on this waterproof—30 minutes at 1 meter—Sony Ericsson SO902iWP+. But still, isn’t nice to think that such phones will one day be available? And isn’t funny that the whipper snapper author of the blog where I found out about this phone calls the waterproof feature “useless”, adding “we’ve never really seen the point of waterproof gadgets unless the manufacturers are actively targeting people who make a habit of dunking their gear in toilets.”  So cute! We’ll politely not call him an idiot, but simply note that our very first cell phone died dead from just a wee splash of salt water. We like waterproof.

Meanwhile Skype, the king of free computer-to-computer VOIP telephony, is offering free calls to any landline or cell within the U.S. and Canada until the end of 2006. That’s going to please some cruisers who like to use Skype over WiFi along the coasts, as is Skype’s plan to offer a “SkypeIn” service whereby you can purchase a phone number that friends and associates can use to dial your VOIP system. Perhaps the wildest concept: Set up your boat with an amplified and marine antenna’d cellular high speed data card and unlimited service, and then use it along the coasts for e-mail, Web access, and phone calling using a cordless Skype phone like this.