03 July 2015

Automatic Identification System Installation

Still More Boat Projects: AIS

Linda got AIS for her birthday.

I ordered the Raymarine AIS650 and figured the installation would be pretty simple.  While waiting for it to arrive, I decided to read the installation manual. Ugh - you need a VHF splitter too. This is not some little cheap transformer thing either. It is a powered unit and adds a tidy $260 to the price.

So I ordered one of those.

What is AIS?
Automatic Identification System.  Ok, but what is that? AIS uses VHF to send and receive information about a boat: such as Name, Heading, Speed, Destination, Propulsion, Length and Beam. You can get a receiver only that will show other ships to you or a transceiver which will also broadcast your own signal to other ships.  This is what we got and since we may one day want to visit a foreign port, it required getting an FCC Ship's License. Every ship has a unique identifier called an MMSI number (don't ask).  Argon's is 367679020.

This should have been really simple.  We asked Tartan to put a SeaTalk backbone cable inside the instrument area above the nav table.  I assumed it was there.  It wasn't.  So I had to find another termination point on the backbone and run another cable. Fortunately, there was one in the aft compartment where the steering is. So off to West Marine to see if they had a SeaTalk backbone cable in stock.  Good news: they did.  Bad news(s): it was not quite the length I wanted and they did NOT have a network "T" in stock.  So, back to the internets to order more stuff.

Finally, with all the bits, the installation really did go very smoothly.

And it works.  Now that I have it, I can say that I wish ALL boats had it.  It is very nice to be able to see targets with bearing and speed.  Also, if you have to hail one, you can do it by name instead of "vessel over by blahdi-blah with the blue hull"

AIS On The Internets
There are several phone apps and websites that allow viewing AIS data. I think the way this works is that there is a network of receivers (volunteers?) who pick up AIS and repost it to various central data stores in reasonably real-time. I have not researched this. I could be totally wrong about that. As of this writing, we're still not showing up on the FindShip Android app, but we are now showing up on http://www.shipfinder.com/.  You can type our MMSI (367679020) into the search box and find us.

Update:  13-Jul-2015: we ARE now showing up on at least one AIS Phone App.  FindShip for Android is showing us. I would assume the various iPhone apps would show us too but I will become seasick if I have to touch an iOS device again. You can find us by name or MMSI

Davits and Dinghies

Another Boat Project: Davits

I hate the dinghy.  I like it for the 1% of the time we need it, but the other 99 is just a pain. There's just no good solution for any boat under 100' in my humble opinion. You either tow it, put it upside down on your deck, deflate it and store it, or lose your swim platform or... get davits.

We decided to get some davits from Kato Marine in Annapolis, MD.

The process is pretty simple. You have to figure out where you want them, measure a bunch of stuff and then like all things boating, hand over a few fist-fulls of cash.  I shouldn't be so cynical. Kato was awesome to work with and they made the process very smooth.  Once the order was finalized we waited for the big box of Kato parts to arrive.

Here are some photos of the mockups for measuring

Christmas on D-Dock
Thanks to UPS Saturday Delivery, we had our davits in time to install before our July trip.  The Kato parts are very high quality. We also had some custom designed stuff made for our installation and everything was very well made.

Getting to work
Time to drill 12 holes in Argon's Transom.  The installation actually went pretty smoothly.  We needed to change the location of the davits outboard a bit because of a contour in the interior of the hull. The flat backing plates would not have sat there very well.

11 June 2015

WiFi Installation on Your Boat

Captain Bob Damiano

Winter (and spring) (and summer) project: Argon gets WIFI

Since I live and work from the boat, good connectivity is pretty important.  We have a couple of 4G hotspots but those come with those annoying data plans. Our marina has free wifi (via Beacon) but all the cool kids put up wifi routers and have their own LANs on their boats.

So back in December, I decided to buy the stuff. I was going to buy a package from Island Time, but I thought I would be even cooler and buy the bits separately myself. That's a great idea if you're an IP/networking genius and can configure this stuff. So I got a Microtik Groove radio and router and started struggling with it (with lots of help from my boss, Dan who IS an IP/networking genius).

Ultimately, I ended up replacing the groove with a Ubiquity Bullet radio.  This thing is MUCH easier to configure and I was actually able to do it with some email support from boss Dan, brother Duane and brother Duane's friend Ralph.

So... I have a brand new Groove radio for sale if anyone wants it.

Physical Mounting

Argon has an Edson radar mast on her transom.  I spoke to someone at Edson and he suggested I buy this "wing" thing that mounts under the radar platform. This provides a nice surface to mount several small antennas.

To mount to that, I got a standard 1-14 antenna mounting base and an extension tube. 

1-14 base with "extra" hole
Using breakfast bar as machine shop
The original Groove radio (ultimately not used)


The wireless router is installed inside the nav table instrument "pod".  I had to run a 12vdc line from a spare breaker to a new terminal block in there.  This feeds the router and the PoE (Power over Ethernet) injector to power the radio.

Terminal block for power

The new power/ground wires snaked into the breaker panel

Close-up of the Bullet

Router mounted.  Radio and antenna temporarily mounted for testing
We also had to run Ethernet all the way from the nav pod to the base of the radar mast and ultimately up the mast to the radio. 
Ethernet and wire snake

Linda doing best tie-wrap job ever down in the steering compartment
About now, is when I got the network to actually work. Until then, it was a notwork.

Putting it all together

This involved finalizing the mounting of the radio/anenna to the mount, unwiring the radar mast and removing it from the boat, installing all the stuff and hooking it all back up.  And then really really hoping that everything still works.

mounting the L-bracket to the extension tube

Bullet secured using a 'bulkhead" connector (and a couple big honkin washers)

Undo these wires at the base of the mast

Mast rail support removed and replaced with temporary measure

The stick is out

attaching the wing

We were smart enough to get help to re-install the stick.
And there she is.  DONE (finally)

14 May 2015

Overnight to Newport

The Volvo Ocean Race is in America and right next door in Newport RI.  We took off at 14:00 from Boston with a plan to hit the Canal by 23:00.  At first the winds were pretty brisk and right behind us.  We considered whether or not to reef the main at first.  And every sailor knows - if you're considering... just do it.  We didn't.  As soon as we turned a little upwind in Presidents Roads, we got knocked over very handily in some 30+ gusts.

Then we reefed and sailed with no jib for a while.

As we got around Hull and were able to turn more downwind we eventually put up the full main and the Jib.  The wind softened a bit and so we traded the jib for the reacher.  Now, we had a nice long stretch of 8.5kt sailing with about 14kts coming over the beam.

Once we got a few miles south of Plymouth, the wind pretty suddenly died. We motored the rest of the way to the canal.


We hit the canal about 21:30 right at peak current and flew through it at 10.5kts.  Once on the other side, there was no wind so we just kept motoring.  Good news is that buzzards was nice and flat.

Around 02:00, we got a little breeze. With 24 miles to go to Newport, we put up the main and reacher and tried to sail for a while.  We were mostly in the low 3's which would have gotten us to Newport later than we wanted.

We gave up and started motoring again and Linda took over watch.

And Sunrise

Linda woke me up about 06:30 as we pulled into Newport Harbor.  As we passed Fort Adams, we did a drive-by of the Volvo boats


10 May 2015

Software Development on the High Seas

Adam at the helm

After party back at the dock. 

Off for our first regular season day sail today with some Marina Neighbors. Also testing Bob's new realtime track andrdoid app.  Unfortunately, it stopped recording while going around Spectacle Island. Bob has some work to do.