Captains log 20160101

 

Welcome Summer in Australia. unfortunately that means Winter is coming to the USA.

 

Yesterday we fixed the steering. We tried to find a place to berth to get supplies and were headed to Hurricane Patty's in St Augustine, a very well known cruisers restaurant with a dock. No room there and with a tiler the areas we could access were not going to be easy. So we headed back as we saw a marina that was still being rebuilt after Hurricane Mathew. As we were coming in a worker came out to let us know we can't dock. I asked if we can stay long enough to fix the steering and he said that was ok so long as we didn't stay the night. I threw him the lines and we were docked on a new floating dock with no one else around.

 

A walk to the shopping center was only a short distance so we grabbed some lunch in the shopping center instead of Hurricane Patty's as that was too far away. The mil and I had lunch, wifey didn't like the style of food so she went to do shopping at the Windixie (supermarket). After we ate we went to the West Marine and I got the stainless steel cable to fix the steering and an interface cable to the chart plotter's NMEA2000 network port. The idea was that I'd fix the steering and later hook up the chart plotter to the engine so I could get RPM and engine data like fuel rate and mpg figures. For the record, the food tasted ok but the repercussions were not worth it.

 

I fixed the steering in about an hour. No real problem except I didn't want to pull out and mount the vice to the workshop table to hold the old cable so I could cut out the thimble. Instead I told the mil I was too lazy and held it by hand against a rest. Naturally the hacksaw slipped and the bade cut a 1/4 deep gash through my index finger. It's a quality blade. That sucker cut through the stainless cable like it was nothing. So my finger was no real challenge. Luckily the blade was very dirty after cutting through the grease and grime on the cable so that stopped the bleeding real fast.

 

We moved on and found the same anchorage we went to the first night here. The night was warm, it didn't drop below 70 overnight. We decided to just take a break, play uno and drink some wine. Lunch was pretty late so we didn't make dinner and instead I made nacho's as a light snack. The steering worked very well. I re tightened everything and removed most of the freeplay. It's very responsive now.

 

This morning I made a big breakfast. Fried bacon, eggs, potato's on a tortilla with lettuce and tomato. I got to work on the chart plotter to engine cable. If you have no real desire to read the technicalities about the NMEA2000 network, stop right here. The rest is nothing but how to hook up a NMEA2000 marine network on the cheap along with a few rants about the marine industry. I did get it working so you won't miss much unless you like that sort of thing.

 

According to Garmin and all marine sites you need special cables, T fittings, terminal connectors, a hub backbone and a drop cable. Some sites even claim it can't be done. I just bought a single drop cable so I could plug it into the chart plotter which means I bought the cable just for its plug end. I cut off the other end and ran an oil/water proof marine cable to the engine. I cut off the Yamaha proprietary connector and spliced the cable to the end of it. The other chart plotter end was more tricky.

 

Typically the NMEA2000 network does require a backbone, two 120ohm termination resistors and two T connectors just to connect two devices together as that makes the system future proof. I'm not interested in future proofing. If I ever want to add more devices to the boat later I'll go the normal way but all I want is two devices connected together.

 

I've read a lot of information about the NMEA2000 network. Most of it is total garbage written by people who were taught by people who don't understand the hardware to begin with. So then they just propagate the same misinformation and usually add their own twist to it. Bottom line is this: NMEA2000 is on the hardware (electronics) level exactly the same as the automotive CAN based system used in cars since the 90's here in the USA and standardised now pretty much world wide. The difference is the connector choice and the software. There are no special NMEA chips if someone wanted to design a NMEA2000 network system, because it is the same thing. Knowing that I pulled out a datasheet for a couple of CAN bus controllers and got to understanding the basics of the system.

It is a very simple differential two wire serial control system with a few things thrown in to make  multi drop networking arbitration simpler to achieve. NMEA based the entire system on the CAN bus then changed the protocol and charged a fortune to manufacturers to use the NMEA name. A complete wank really. They could have used the same protocols as the automotive industry and made life easy for everyone including diagnostics, but then they wouldn't be able to charge people a fortune for having a board meeting to make a new protocol. Welcome to Marine ripoff bullshit 101 folks. 

What NMEA did was change the connector style (even though the original CAN had suitable connectors) then they changed the meaning of the codes. The underlying protocol and electronics stayed exactly the same as the original CAN system. So instead of a code that represents engine temperature, in NMEA rit might represent wind speed. We really don't know what it represents in NMEA (unlike the automotive industry) because they kept that proprietary and if you want to know, you pay the licensing fees. It's really tough stuff to do the code re-labeling. So hard that I'm sure they appointed the brightest minds in the Universe to this task and charged a licensing fee that just barely cover the cost of this huge ground breaking undertaking which makes the Apollo Moon program pale into insignificance on a complexity level.

 

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, lets go to the solution to my particular problem. The standard CAN network uses a two wire differential serial communication system with termination resistors that total to 60 ohms. There is much debate about the marine ripoff version of the CAN bus as to how these resistors are meant to be wired, and so far nothing I've read by any "expert" on marine electronics demonstrates that their knowledge is based on anything other than hearsay and speculation. They really need to read a datasheet, it's all in there.

 

The funniest one I read was that using a 60 ohm instead of two 120 ohm resistors (one at each end makes 60 ohms total) will only work on a test bench with the cable length less than about a few cm. rofl. Last I checked, the CAN bus didn't operate in the Giga Hertz region for this to be a problem. Garbage in garbage out. As I wrote, people just make stuff up or pass around garbage that they heard.

 

The real reason you want to have two 120 ohm resistors is to reduce reflections on a cable, iff (read as if and only if) the cable run is exceptionally long and the propagation time across the cable is significant enough to cause sizable reflections that might interfere with the negotiation of two devices placed at the opposite ends of that long cable. Otherwise, feel free to place a single 60 ohm resistor in and it will work fine. In the case of a single device connected to the chart plotter a 60 ohm resistor will meet any DC component requirement and load the line enough to increase the noise immunity so the system works with no degradation.

 

My run of about 6 meters (NMEA claim 20 feet max on a drop cable, another wank I might address in a future post if anyone is interested) was done with one resistor about 2m from the chart plotter end and it works perfectly. I didn't have any 60 ohm resistors but I did have a failed portion of some LED strip lighting. This had two 150 ohm and one 330 ohm smd 1/2 watt resistors on it. I un-soldered them and made a 61 ohm resistor out of them rated about 1 watt. This was put across the CAN signal wires. I tested the system and it didn't work. Turns out that Garmin doesn't use the 12 Volt power supply for the chart plotter to drive the CAN bus. The CAN controller is powered off the network power source. If this was done correctly (optically isolated) then in theory the Garmin chart plotter could run a 24 volt CAN bus while the plotter itself ran 12 volts. I wouldn't trust this assessment unless you were happy to possibly blow up a chart plotter. In any case. Once I put power onto the network wires the system fired up and the chart plotter and engine were happily communicating.

 

I configured the system and now we have mpg, gallons/hour, rpm, inlet manifold pressure and alternator voltage being displayed on the chart plotter. This means I can now run the engine at the most economical speed, do tests on propellers and it also allows me to input a fuel tank figure and it automatically keeps track of how much fuel I have left.

 

On the alarms page I can configure it to sound an alarm when we're running low on fuel. So no more running out of fuel unexpectedly. It also allows adding fuel to the total when we fuel up by inputting the amount of gallons we fueled up with. So I'm very happy about the setup. I'm even happier that it cost me $25 to do when the options from Garmin and Yamaha came out in the several hundreds.

The cheapest official solution I found was $100 if I already had a CAN bus on the boat that used NMEA connectors (iow an NMEA2000 network). The cheapest NMEA2000 network starter kit is about $100 so the best price this can be done is about $200 if one goes the official NMEA2000 route. It goes up fast from there if you want them to do it or you use "name" brands.

 

There you go. Through misinformation people are being told what you can and can't do and are being charged a fortune for a simple setup. Feel free to go the official route but if you have a small boat with an outboard that supports the NMEA2000 protocol (all new Yamaha 4 strokes do) then this is an under $30 solution to get data to your chart plotter.

 

For reference:

My chart plotter is a GPS740s and my engine is a 40hp fuel injected Yamaha 2013 model.

The Yamaha NMEA connector is a white 4 pin connector with two wires, blue and white connected to it located at the very back of the engine. To connect it to the chart plotter, cut the drop cable and the Yamaha connector. Strip it back and join blue to blue, white to white and put a 60 ohm resistor across them. To finish, connect black to 12 Gnd and red to the same power supply as your chart plotter so they bot come up at the same time.

The drop cable is about $25 and you can even get longer lengths than the 2m I got which was the only one they had in stock. You only need the thinnest cable so get the micro rated one.

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Captains log 201611.29

 

We reached warm weather.

I convinced the mil to come out to the cockpit instead of staying couped up in her room like she has been. The Sun and the warmth made a difference. It's also a lot more stable in the cockpit. The wife joined us and we had what for a day was meant to be for most of the trip but which never eventuated.

 

Things improved greatly after we anchored in St Augustine. We decided to take a few days off just to relax for a bit. The mil didn't cry in the morning. This was a break from the regular ritual. I get up, make coffee, start the engine, pull up the anchor and motor in cold miserable conditions while she cried in her room. I had no idea this was going on until her meltdown the other day.

 

We're contemplating staying in St Augustine instead of going further and the idea of not traveling more made everyone more at peace. The following day we found a marina so we could get water, showers and laundry done.

 

On our way in there was a large current. The channel to the marina was well protected from the current but a few feet out the current flowed fast. The boat was crab walking at an angle of about 70 degrees from the marina channel so we basically were going in more sideways than straight. We'd radio'ed them to let them know we were on our way so they could meet us as they had requested us to do.

 

We had just about crossed into the no current area of the marina in a very tight channel and as I was straightening the boat the steering failed. The boat continued to crab walk till it was fully in protected water (about 6 feet) and then shot straight for the sand bank and got us grounded before I could do anything.

 

I threw out an anchor just in case as there were large luxury boats around closer in. After inspecting the steering I found that the cable had just failed in the wetbox area at the stern. There was nothing we could do so we radioed the marina to let them know. I pulled out the tiller and popped that into the port rudder. At least we had steering again but not with the wheel. At that point a guy from the marina came up with a small tender and between us and him we pulled out the boat and we went into our dock using the tiller.

 

After showers I initiated a search for the SSB antenna. I made the thing out of stainless multi strand cable so I could have spares in case the steering failed. I took the antenna down so I could use it's halyard for the spinnaker. Problem was, I forgot where I put it. We stripped the whole boat down but failed to find it. I'm pretty sure it's in the car back at Colonial Beach. Oh well. Now we have to get another cable.

 

Right now we're anchored in a very well protected spot near a public ramp that has access to trash collection and a short walk to basic convenience stores. The wife used some fat trimmed off the beef steak we have in the fridge and used it to catch a saltwater catfish. That became breakfast. It was tasty and everyone enjoyed it. We haven't had a nibble on the lines since though and it's been all day.

 

The mil was happy again this morning. Maybe the catfish was just that good so she didn't cry. For the record, her crying could very well be the hormone medication she is on for the breast cancer. Still, the fact that she isn't crying and is in a far better mood goes to show that things here have improved. Still a few things to sort out but things are far better than being cold, miserable and tossed around like we were in a washing machine.

 

While anchored here we have seen a lot o wild life. From birds to marine animals. Dolphins, sharks, fish, pelicans, cranes and other birds I can't even name. Tomorrow I might get the camera out and see if I can't get a few snaps of them.

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Captains log 201611.24

 

The outlook for Savannah to the bla bla bla sound out to 20 miles is 5-10 knots and seas of 2 feet.

We were between Savannah and bla bla bla sound. Stupid me believed the forecast because they had been saying the same shit for a while now. Must be true then. Sadly not.

So I went out onto the Atlantic. Seas were not 2 feet. If waves were the same height as me (6 foot 1) standing on the deck of my boat (1.5 feet) then they quite simply are not two foot waves in anyone's language.

 

I've had people tell me that 6 foot waves means 12 feet from trough to peak. No. Sorry but if you think that you are just plain and simple mistaken. Wave height is measured from the trough to peak. There are many reasons for this and none of them make sense to use 1/2 the peak to peak height. Firstly, waves are not sinusoidal. The majority of the wave mass/energy is in the lower part of the wave. That simply means that the average wave mass is below the 1/2 peak to peak height.

 

If you want to get technical, we'd look at energy in the wave as that is the important figure. The RMS value (the true average in terms of energy) is below the peak to trough height (can be called peak to peak for reasons best left to more technical literature than my rant). It makes no sense to measure waves based on a metric that is nonsensical. This is why the weather bureau uses peak to peak. It is easier to measure out in the field. It relates far better than 1/2 peak to peak. The best way would be to measure RMS but they have settled for a statistical analysis of the average of the highest 1/3 of the waves. So take the highest 1/3 of the waves and average them off and that gives you the peak to peak (trough to peak, same thing really).

 

Now, when 2 out of ten waves is about 7 feet high, I call bullshit about the 2 foot wave height forecast. If the average 1/3 of the waves was 2 feet then why the hell am I getting 7 foot plus waves 10% of the time????

 

Anyways, lets just say that it was freaking rough out there. Apart from a couple (I literally mean 2) fishing boats (I mean large professional trawlers) that were being thrown around port to starboard, there was no one out there but us. Clearly Darth NOAA is not a trusted entity around here. The Rebels did not take the bait. Except for stupid me.

 

After heading out of t Catherine's sound we were greeted with even worse conditions. Typically sounds can be nasty places. On this particular occasion the sound was rough but getting out there was worse. As mentioned, the seas were rather large but I didn't mention the period. They were short period waves so the boat was thrown up and down repeatedly. It was nasty. I've seen some nasty crap and this was just nasty. I far prefer bigger waves and longer periods as the boat smoothly follows them. This was stern up and bow down then reverse every few seconds. Two feet my ass. I've been in 4 foot seas that were smoother than this. Over and over and over. Because the way out is so long, we literally well passed the three mile limit while still in the channel, turning around made no sense. It would take almost as long to go back as it would to get to the next inlet.

 

From my perspective it was rough. I was getting queasy and I don't get sea sick. Going up and down so much so fast was taking it's toll. I hadn't had breakfast and I slid the hatch back. The wife was not looking good. The mil was in her room, on the floor huddled in the fetal position balling her eyes out like she was going to die.

 

Yep. We're out about 5 miles, the water depth is shallow (20-40 feet) and is shallow for 80 miles out. Which is the problem. Shallow water waves are nasty. They are higher and shorter period than deep water waves. Ever wonder why waves break at the shore? That's because they hit shallow water and then grow tall and break. We were in one long line of breakers that just hadn't got shallow enough to break but were nasty as hell.

 

So I get back into the next inlet. The wife and the mil are a complete mess. I promise them I won't take them out in that crap again. My hope had been to get to St Augustine. I was willing to go all night but by the time I turned to go with the waves, the damage to the girls was done. They were done. They wanted calm water and that was that. We made it to the calm water. We lost basically about 5 hours and learned a valuable lesson. The mil will not be able to handle the Ocean. The wife was not happy either.

 

I anchored in a nice quiet place and got up early this morning. My mind was clicking. The mil and the wife can't handle the seas. WTF is the point. I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that I might just have to sell the boat.

 

I started the day with that on my mind. I was not in a good mood. Happy Thanksgiving. The day itself turned out good. It was warm. We crossed St Simons and St Andrews sounds with no effort at all. The wind was clam and the waves were flat. We crossed into Florida. I decided to pull up early and put out a line or two. I caught a crab but the thing got away. I swapped with the wife, she took the rod and I took the net. Slowly but surely, she pulled in 7 large blue crabs on a fishing line while I brought them in with a net. We all laughed and drank and I made a Croatian version of gumbo. We knocked off two bottles of sake between us. We still have a bottle of Scotch a friend from Colonial Beach gave us, with the condition that we can't open it till we pass the Panama Canal. Pretty sure you're proud of our dedication so far Kim. We haven't touched that bottle yet but it's singing some nice melodies to us regularly. lol

 

The girls are out for the night. I'm posting this as it's rare for me to get 4G internet and be anchored. Where we are right now is that we know the mil can't make an Ocean crossing without falling apart into a crying ball of mess. That's all I know 100% so far. We're working the rest out as we go.

 

As for me, I'm stubborn/dumb enough to take this damned boat to Oz single handed and getting more entrenched as I drink.

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Captains log 201611.13

I haven't had much chance to update the spazcat.com site as internet access has not been convenient for me. If we do get it in passing I'm navigating and when we anchor we usually have limited access and I'm exhausted so go to sleep shortly after Sunset. When I get up I make coffee, pull up the anchor and repeat the process. Today we're at a marina. Not by choice. We've had engine issues again.

Lets back track a bit to Atlantic City Yacht Basin in Va, just South of Norfolk. We fueled up there but couldn't find an anchorage before Sunset. I motored slowly but Hurricane Mathew left a mess that we found. We hit a submerged log that as we found out later broke the fiberglass on the starboard rudder and completely ripped out the starboard skeg which protects said rudder. We found a place to anchor shortly after and continued South. I pulled out the sails and we sailed about 30 miles across the Albermarle sound to get to Manteo. There we stayed in a Marina to get the laundry done and restock fresh veggies and meat. I managed to mess my back up so we stayed on the hook in Manteo another day and night. Leaving early we hoped to cross the pamlico under sail as there was a Nor'Easter meant to blow and we were heading SW. Perfect we thought. Not so much in practice. The Nor"Easter never came but instead we had head winds all the way blowing about 25 knots. There were some nasty gusts probably going to about 45 knots but I can't confirm that. I can say that we saw a tow boat pushing a barge blown into an island in a narrow channel. It was not a fun day for anyone.

I pushed on to get to Hog Island. That was the island Robin and I anchored at a few years ago and we got a good nights sleep even though the wind was howling. History repeated and we woke to screaming wind through the rigging but no waves as we were well protected. In great anticipation I pulled out the spinnaker when we dropped anchor at the island and set up the rigging for the great sailing in the morning which was meant to be a 15 knot Northerly wind. Turns out the forecast changed somewhere in the night to a Southerly 15-25 knot wind. We were literally going into the wind. Again. This time with close to 40 miles worth of fetch so we'll be facing fully developed waves for the wind speed. Naturally, they messed up the wind speed and we got something more like 35-45 knots head wind. The resulting waves were crashing over the boat regularly. Higher than the cabin top and soaking everything from bow to stern. The girls were not having a good time at all. We were making slow progress with the motor really working hard. I decided to make a change in direction when about 15 miles into the trip and diverted to meet up with the Western route at the South end of Alligator river. I got part way there and the wind and waves dropped back a bit. We'd traveled far enough to reduce the fetch to a few miles which drastically cut the wave size. We got the 1-2 feet that was forecast. Since the wind died down greatly I resumed the original course and was met with milder conditions. All up the detour cost us about three hours.

We found anchorage in a reasonably well protected spot but as it turns out not protected enough. It wasn't a particularly bad night but it was a little rocky. We pushed on and got to Beaufort in the morning and fueled up both tanks. The Pamlico really chewed up the fuel. The wind was still howling in Beaufort but was now a North Westerly and we were headed West. About 5 miles from Beaufort where we fueled up is a KFC we enjoyed. This KFC knows how to cook chicken. We were headed there as our "special treat" for the trip. About 3 miles after fueling up, the engine died. Were were going into the wind on a very close reach so I pulled out the sails and kept going. We eventually got there and the KFC did not disappoint. One of the few good times on the trip so far.

I checked the engine and found that we'd just fueled up with water contaminated fuel. I managed to get about 1/2 a pint of water out of the filters and water separator's and hoped that was all the damage. Sadly not We ran aground a mile after leaving the KFC. Engine died and the wind blew us to the shoal quickly as the channel is narrow. We finally got out, headed back to the pier but decided to stay on the hook as there were too many idiots leaving large wakes which would smash the boat on the pier. I managed to get more water out of the system before we left the next morning. From that point on the engine would just randomly die. I'd pull out the filters, drain the water from them and try again. Sometimes that worked, other times I'd need to repeat the process Yesterday was hell day. The engine was being a real pita. We were in narrow channels and passing inlets from the Atlantic so were also dealing with very high tides and fast flowing currents. We were sailing without motor for miles till the wind died and I started the motor and pulled in the sails. Just was I got the sails in, the engine died and I couldn't start it. It took no time at all and we were aground in an inlet with the current flowing about 3 knots. We were stuck good. I got the engine going again and tried everything but couldn't get loose. We hit ground right at low tide and the tide was about 4 feet down. So we could wait till high tide and we'd be out.

 

We waited. Two hours went by and a guy randomly offers to pull us out. Away we went. Only to have the engine die about 200 yards further down. I repeated the process and we got moving again. By this stage we were really behind schedule and in an area where finding anchorage was difficult. Some people anchor in the channel, I refuse to do that. We found a little spot and as I was out the front getting the anchor, the engine died again. We were now drifting into a private pier at about 4 knots. There was one hell of a current there. We got the engine started and luckily this was one of those times it just had a hiccup and kept going without need to pull the filters out. We dropped anchor and had a good nights sleep till the dreaded wakes of the large power boats hit.

We all were up and I just made coffee for everyone when we saw this asshole planing his huge boat past a bunch of other sail boats shaking them violently. I told everyone to brace themselves and when the wake hit, it literally was throwing stuff around the boat. One thing about catamarans is they have a fast response time or short roll period. A large heavy monohull acts like a filter slowly moving to the waves. A catamaran just follows the wave profile near perfectly. So when a power boat shoots past at 30 knots it leaves a four foot wake traveling at 30 knots that our boat couples to and violently shakes as it follows the wave profile. Great on the ocean where the waves are longer period as it is hard to capsize them. Not so great in choppy conditions but nature rarely produces waves that are so destructive to a catamaran. Humans however seem to do it about 20 times a day and usually smile and wave in complete ignorance to what they have just subjected us to.

So after picking things up and deciding to skip breakfast since more of these boaters will be coming we headed on to Southport NC. No real engine problems today. It ran flawlessly but I can't trust it so will be pulling out the vst and checking that too. The plan was to get to the marina, the mil does laundry while the wife and I walk 3 miles to get supplies and tools and then I work on the engine. As we were walking a guy just pulls up and asks if we were transients. We said yes. He offer's us a ride to the store. So we get the tools I need and shopping done. So many people that are boaters are great. I really love most of the boating community. Always on the look out for each other.

We get back to the boat just in time for the rain to start. It has not stopped since. That was about 7 hours ago. So no fixing the engine. We'll be headed South since the last forecast for here was rain for another two days. It makes no sense to stay in a marina paying to be miserable when I can just do that for free on my own sailing in the rain and cold. Oh, my back is still stuffed. Some days its better, other days I can't sleep. I'm skipping the pain killers as I have a tendency to cause more injury when on them. I did take them the first few days. So far since we left, we've had one decent weather day and that was the day we left. Most have been miserable cold and in your face wind all the way regardless of which way we were going. I looked at the temperatures on the Eastern seaboard. We are in a cold patch that extends 50 miles North and 50 miles South of us. Yes, it's warmer in both the North and the South compared to where we are. That's how this whole trip has felt. I wonder if I am a character in a Douglas Adams book. It's cold and miserable everywhere I go. The damned cold just loves me and follows me. We're hoping that will change shortly.

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