September 2006 Archives

EPIRB love, after sinking by whale

Sep 28, 2006

NB with ARC EPIRB(D.Smith)

Whereas we seem to have reached consensus that Iridium does not suffice as an EPIRB, it seems appropriate to post this intimate photo of a man apparently in love with his EPIRB. No wonder. At 7:30am on 7/25/06, Captain Nick Barran’s 40’ racing sloop was holed by a whale 415 miles north of Hawaii. He and his crew had about an hour to gather their stuff, inflate their life raft, and watch Mureadrittas XL vanish into the deep Pacific. They took pictures, too, and most sites published dramatic images of decks awash and a hand about to slice the raft’s tether. 
  Me, I like the shot of Barran, probably very shook, laying back in the raft next to his faithful ACR RapidFix. The thing, and the whole COSPAS-SARSAT system, worked like a charm and this well equipped crew was aboard the container vessel Maersk Darwin before the sun set. ACR lays out the story here, and also has a pretty compelling advertising campaign here, but no PR person was there aboard the container ship prompting Barran to pose holding his EPIRB. I wonder when he let it out of his reach? By the way, there was also a satellite phone aboard Mureadrittas XL.

Safe on the Maersk Darwin

Iridium, great service, but in lieu of EPIRB?

Sep 27, 2006

Motorola_9505I am the proud owner of an Iridium satellite phone. Could I omit EPIRB from my safety equipment list? I believe that verbally communicating with the Coast Guard (with GPS in hand) is  superior to the EPIRB. Do I miss something?

That question came through Sail’s “Ask an expert” section. My immediate reaction is “hell no”, but I’m curious what you all think? I figure that many marine distress situations happen so fast and are so wet that what you really need is a totally automatic (i.e. water activated) or semi-automatic (hold down the button) device that is completely waterproof and will call out the calvary, delivering your ID and location in the process. That’s exactly what EPIRBs and even PLBs, especially with optional GPS, do very well.
  That’s not to say the Iridium isn’t a fantastic technology. I know a lot of far voyaging skippers who count on it for offshore voice, e-mail, and even restrained Web browsing (thanks in large part to super clever compression software like XGate/XWeb). I recall, for instance, that Bluewater has a fixed Iridium in the wheelhouse and a spare in a Pelican case. And I can definitely picture how one could be very valuable during a slow speed distress situation, say a dismasting or a gravely ill crew member, or to check that the EPIRB really worked from your life raft! But superior to an EPIRB?

PS A nice shot from a French marine electronique company showing  the sort of use Iridium is really suited for, sitting in the nav station making calls, checking e-mail, and downloading GRIB weather files into MaxSea. And, yes, that green thing is a Sailor radio of some sort.

Iridium maxsea-blu

Who's driving that big rig? (#2, he's asleep!)

Sep 26, 2006

Lerrix MAIB Panbo

OK, it’s not exactly glamorous to drive a cargo ship full of used cars out through Germany’s Keil Canal and than across the Baltic to Lithuania, but it was this unfortunate skipper’s first command. That’s why he couldn’t rest well during the already stressful 6-on/6–off watch schedule (only two deck officers!), and possibly why he let the lookout—who was also the cook and about to be relieved the next day—go below to clean the galley for the next guy. Result? The captain fell asleep so solidly that Lerrix went a full hour past a turning mark before it went aground, even though VTS (vessel traffic service) operators were trying to warn him by radio.
  Yes, readers, I’ve been dipping once again into the rich archives of the U.K.”s MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Bureau), and finding yet more dope that should make you very cautious about big ships. An interesting aspect of this particular case, detailed here, is how minimal the ship’s electronics were, though up to Brit code, and how funky the skipper’s own setup:

“Lerrix’s bridge equipment met the criteria required for the flag state {U.K.} Safety Equipment Certificate. Although compliant, the navigation equipment fit was basic, consisting of 3cm and 10cm radars, neither with an ARPA facility, an echo sounder with a paper plot, and stand alone AIS and GPS sets.
  During the investigation, it was noted that the master carried his own laptop computer from ship to ship, complete with a hand-held GPS. Loaded onto the laptop was a pirated programme of Transas electronic charting, which he had downloaded from the internet in 1999. The hand-held GPS, which the master had secured to the bridge console, provided the positional information for the laptop’s electronic chart (Figure 6). Examination of the programme showed that it had not been updated since 1999, and the charts on the system were based upon 1999 data. The downloaded software did not provide any of the optional operator functions, such as warnings and alarms.”

Two old guys, and a Garmin, part 2

Sep 25, 2006

Garmin simple setup Panbo lr

So I spoke to “the boys” on Saturday; they’d had a great first sail on their own. Good Enough is slippery, as I saw myself (note the 6.3 knots on the GPS, relatively flat seas in background). And, good news, Jo found himself getting more comfortable with his Garmin. Here's a bigger shot of the screen above, showing some of the things I set up that may be helping him:
  * In Map Setup, the Prefs sub tab, I put Orientation to “Track Up”. Now I know that some salts think North Up, paper chart style, is the only way to go, but I’ve come to believe that head up makes it easier to sort out what’s important on these little screens. That’s especially true on this Garmin (the Navman 8120 too) because Track Up and Course Up automatically put the screen into a “look ahead” mode so you see more chart ahead of the vessel.
  * In the same setup page, Nav sub tab, I set a Heading Line based on a distance of 1 nautical mile. I always set up one of these lines, which I think Garmin should be calling a COG line (there could be Heading line too, like on a Raymarine, but it would be based on compass input). Usually I use time, but in this case, with inexperienced users and those tiny lower right map scales, the 1 mile really helps the eye to understand the current chart scale easily. The effect is pretty obvious on this Split Chart page, which I think is another boon to maximum situational awareness on a minimal screen.
  * Finally, I also goosed up the spot soundings font size in the Labels sub tab, but I’m not sure that helps. I really wanted to enlarge the nav aids but couldn’t figure out a way to do this. Anyone? Or do you have any other ideas on how to make a small Garmin screen as easy and informative as possible? Do tell!

PS. In regard to inspirational old boat guys, I’m happy to report that my buddy Max didn’t last long without one. Plus: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who won the first non-stop race around the world, aka the Voyage for Madmen (excellent book), is doing it again.

Weekend weirdness: a DIY dink-sized car

Sep 24, 2006


Marine connection? Hey, this two seater, at under 400 pounds, could fit on the boat deck of a trawler, or even the hybrid power catamaran (though perhaps at the sacrifice of some solar panels). Besides the inventor is my friend and neighbor Jory Squibb, who’s probably delivered more boats than anyone I know. Plus he gave me a ride in Moonbeam…which was exciting, especially at 80 MPG around town! Here’s where Jory explains how you can build one yourself.

Two old guys, and a Garmin, part 1

Sep 22, 2006

Good Enough Jim Brown plus Panbo lr

Multihull sailing fascinates me anyway, but yesterday’s scoot around the Bay was inspirational and momentous. That grinning dude, bigger picture here, with the magnifying lens clipped to his already serious glasses is 73–year-old trimaran designer Jim Brown, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since my days in the 80’s running WoodenBoat School, where he and longtime boat-biz partner John Marples taught a wonderful class in Constant Camber multihull construction. Jim’s had macular degeneration nipping away at his vision for some fifteen years, and his good buddy Jo Hudson, 70 himself, is sporting some brand new artery stents. But yesterday was, in part, a test sail preparatory to Jo and  Jim taking off today, headed for Jim’s dock in Virginia. And they’re dreaming about the Azores and an Atlantic circle starting next April. That’s the inspirational part!
  The momentous part is that Jo just bought Good Enough from Steve Neil, center below, who took Jim’s class in 1986 along with his dad, for whom he (beautifully) built this 35’ Constant Camber Marples-designed trimaran. Good Enough Garmin Panbo 2Steve went on to build several other multis, took this one over after his dad’s passing, and is now production manager at Wayfarer Marine. It’s not easy to give up a boat with so much personal history, but he and his mate Diane (chasing us in a photo boat) seemed delighted about turning this one over to Jo and Jim.
  And, yes, there was a marine electronics element. Part of my function yesterday was trying to orient the old guys to the Garmin 3206 that Jo just bought and Steve installed. It was a challenge. This is a pretty complex machine, with a lot of buttons, and Jim can only see it by putting his magnifiered eye inches away. I tried to set it up to be as useful yet straightforward as possible—more about that in part 2—but Jo still found it overwhelming. Hopefully, he’s making friends with his 3206 right now, on the open Bay. If you live or boat along the Northeast Coast, keep an eye out for these old cats!

Good Enough crew 9_21_6 Panbo lr

Simrad GB60, so connected!

Sep 21, 2006

Simrad GB60 brochure computer

Since my first Simrad Glass Bridge post, the company has posted more information plus an 8 page PDF brochure. That’s where I snipped this hind-end shot of its super-connected black box computer (also here in a larger, unlabeled version). Check out the dual SimNet/NMEA 2000 and four serial ports—no multiplexers needed around here! Note too that the GB60 will support up to to two radar scanners (via that built in Ethernet switch) from a wide range especially designed for the system, or can connect to stand alone, even type approved, Simrad radar sets (via the RSI).

I understand that Simrad is hoping to demo the GB60 at the NMEA Conference and Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show, both in late Oct. I’ll be at both myself, and look forward to seeing it. I know that megayacht specialists can build systems even more powerful, and Raymarine has its elegant H6, but isn’t this is the new king of really high-end all-from-one-manufacturer systems?

Monitor hoods, they really work

Sep 20, 2006

Hoodman on Ralph

I came across this late 90’s picture of my first ECS set up on Ralph, the boat’s that’s still looking for a new owner, yee scurvy dogs (hey, yesterday was supposedly Talk Like a Pirate Day). That cloth-over-something-stiff hood velcroed to the laptop made a tremendous difference in usability,GlareStomper web300wide even on cloudy days. I got it from Hoodman but now they only seem to have a hard plastic ‘desktop’ model (do not get the pop-up version, as you have to put your head too close for boating). Captn Jack’s has one that looks pretty good, and there’s also GlareStomper, which specializes in fabric and stiff foam hoods fitted for smaller machines like Garmin 492. Anyone know of other choices, besides some cardboard and duct tape?

QMS, interesting WiFi solution, lousy return policy

Sep 19, 2006

QuickerTek yachtIllustr

Here’s another marine WiFi system, this one QuickerTek’s $1,000 QMS (QuckerTek Marine System). The release and web page are light on specs, but this seems to be a high powered WiFi transceiver bridged to an onboard WiFi LAN such that any computer onboard (Mac or Windows) can get online (which, by the way, is the hot ticket system amongst some geeks). It sounds interesting, if pricey, but what really got my attention was this note at the bottom of the product page:

No returns. All sales are final. This is what happens when the few abuse our good graces, install our products, sail around with them for a couple of weeks, soak them with salt water and then return them with no reason given. We don't like it either...”

Well, I wouldn’t even consider buying expensive hardware under that policy. I think QuickerTek has ignored an important lesson of modern retailing: A company hurts its best customers, and itself, by basing policy on its worst customers. I would refer them to Paul Hawken’s classic Growing a Business, which splendidly lays out the smartness of generous customer service, and also to L.L. Bean, the Maine business which may have invented the no-questions-asked return policy. I once got a behind-the-scenes tour of Bean’s and naturally asked if the famous policy wasn’t abused. The answer, delivered with a smile, was something like, “Hell yes! For instance, we’ve tracked one guy who’s had the same pair of boots replaced 22 times. But the guarantee is so good for our business that we’ll never change it!

Tender tracking, good for exploring too

Sep 18, 2006

Admiral 9 tender tracker1

With so many megayachts in the world—some with extra large tenders that they have to tow offshore, some with wild and crazy champagne-guzzling jet-ski-riding charter guests—tender tracking is a big deal. The Nobeltec Admiral 9 Plus Pack looks like quite a complete offering, as seen in these screen shots, and I know that there’s another interesting product about to enter this niche. Some thoughts:
   * I think Admiral can track more sorts of targets than anything else out there: MARPA, AIS, DSC, and now tenders. Won’t other navigation systems follow suit? And what new target type next?
Admiral 9 tender tracker2
   * The Seetrac transmitter/base station system that works with Tender Tracker (with Transas too) can also send wind info, using an option that sounds like the Airmar WeatherStation. Thus you could send your sailing yacht’s tender out to survey a race course America’s Cup style.
   * By the same token, your tender can also send back depth readings. I’m not sure how they are displayed in Admiral, hopefully as a track of varying colors, but I do know that if you have the optional Bathy Recorder, the tender’s readings can rebuild the 3D data right ahead of your yacht. Yeah, you’d be down $2,300 just in software options (and I can’t find Seetrac prices), but how cool is that! (Actually, has any reader devised a poor man’s way to collect soundings from a dinghy, lead line excepted?)

SeeTrac tender tracking