Wet day planning

Today (Saturday) was forecast to be heavy rain all day. So we started with a duvet morning which was very welcome. After lunch we did a shopping trip to Aldi.

Then the only practical progress was to improve the double (pullman style) bed in the aft cabin. So the bed base now has fewer gaps and is fully secured (I do need to sort out simpler access to steering without taking up huge boards which would be difficult in any kind of rough sea). The edge board to the seat is now much higher which hopefully will stop it trying to escape over the top. Now that the layout is fixed (and working really well) we also adjusted the mesh that is under the mattress (stops condensation/mould) to fit properly.

Then more planning of what jobs to do next.

The sizing and availability of bolts is a constant challenge. When we are changing things we are rarely able (or want) to reuse 44 year old bolts for critical tasks.

The latest issue are the bolts to attach the bow roller. Three bolts have captive nuts in the bow and these will have to remain imperial (5/16ths). The two big bolts down into the anchor locker were 1/2″ diameter and 4.5″ long with a weird half countersink, half hexagon head). I can’t get either 1/2″ or 14mm long enough in A4 stainless steel. So I think I’ll have to get Keith to drill and countersink them for 16mm bolts. Then two more smaller bolts which go through the stem, still to size these.

We have ordered another nice upgrade. New acrylic washboards and hatch top to match our other windows (and wheelhouse rooflight). The hatchtop is hinged (no space for a forward sliding hatch) and at the moment has a middle hinge that leaks if we have rain blowing in from behind. Also the thumblock to hold the top up is a pain to use (literally if you don’t tighten it and the hatch falls on your head while climbing in or out). The wood is all in poor condition.

We have ordered from Hadlow Marine again. The new top is one piece and will have a gas strut. We will have 2 instead of 3 washboards. I’m sorting out a new locking bar which should be simple, safe and secure.

Besides the two major jobs when we have good weather (masts and foredeck) I also have a few jobs inside. Adjustments to the starboard settee back as it is too high. Shelf in the galley. Test install batteries and design/build boxes. Refit floorboards without any creaks.

We have decided to create little wooden boxes for the inside of the chainplate loops (where there is a large dyneema knot under the backing plate) to catch drips and allow inspection/replacement. But that can be done indoors which is why the mast and foredeck work take priority as we need dry weather suitable for curing epoxy.

That’s it for now, looking forward to big and visible progress over the next few days.

Preparing our Mizzen Mast for Dyneema rigging

Today it was time to start getting the mizzen mast prepared for the Dyneema Rigging.

FR4 Tangs

Jane got busy on carving the FR4 mast tangs. We need 8 (2 forestays, 2 cap shrouds, 2 lower shrouds, 2 running backstays). This was working with the basic “triangles” I cut the other day (see DIY Mast tangs for Dyneema: progress).

We did vacuum up the dust from the workmate and from the tarp as we went.

Between getting started, interruptions and recharging the dremel she managed nearly two completed tangs today. They are getting a bit quicker but it is going to need quite a few more days work!

Mizzen mast prep

Meanwhile, I started work on the mast itself.

There were some things we knew we needed to remove:

  • one remaining radar reflector bracket (the other has already broken off)
  • the radar mount (we no longer have radar, we would not trust a new radar to this mount!)
  • the deck light (we want LED and it was in poor condition)
  • a couple of plastic cleats (one of them broken). There are already 4 original alloy cleats and only potential for 4 lines at the mast head.
  • the VHF aerial (we need a new one for both VHF and AIS).

When we saw how much corrosion was under some of these (indicating that the different metals had not been electrically separated causing galvanic corrosion) we decided that this is our best opportunity to do a full refurbishment.

So as well as removing the deck light we also removed the external channel for it’s wire (that was riveted to the mast).

Having decided to do a full refurbishment I spent some time doing research. We have decided to go for a full epoxy paint. So we are removing anything that doesn’t look absolutely perfect. At the lower end of the mast the gooseneck, winch bases and original cleats are all looking good, plus they are low enough that they could be removed and refitted with the mast up.

Further up the mast the two higher shroud attachment points have stainless plates riveted to stop the through bolt elongating the hole. I was a bit concerned about some signs of corrosion, so I have removed them (and the VHF bracket). You can see the end of the compression tube in the bolt hole. In this picture you can see I have taken off the mast head, which also came off very easily (note that I have replaced the very bad halyards with messenger lines). I will add an extra line for an internal topping lift rather than use the external block that is shackled on).

Here you can see the lowest shroud attachment. No stainless steel plate for this one as there is not enough space above the hole due to the spreader attachment. Looks like some corrosion where whatever was used as a barrier between the stainless steel and the aluminium has failed.

Top of the mast with the mast head removed.

Plans

We are going with mostly International Paints Products. So 2 part epoxy Interprotect Primer (grey) followed by 2 part Perfection Undercoat (white) and then Perfection gloss top coat (Mediterranean White).

Before the primer we need to prepare the surface. So sanding (I’ve ordered a special ScotchBrite pad – we need to be careful not to use anything metallic when doing the surface work as it could cause more galvanic corrosion), the cleaning with acetone before applying the primer ASAP (the aluminium oxidises really quickly which stops the primer adhering properly).

After the Primer we will use thickened epoxy to fill all the holes that are no longer needed and make good any areas where we had to sand away pitting.

We are aiming for 2 coats primer, then 1 coat undercoat and 2 coats top coat. We have ordered enough paint for the main mast as well. So we will get that prepared to the same point and sand, and paint with primer together (then the rush is a bit over).

Once the painting is done we have a few more things to fit and so I have been sourcing some of these.

  • new bolts, washers and more to attach the tangs for the dyneema shrouds. The imperial measurement bolts won’t be ready until 8th September which delays putting the mizzen mast up. It took ages to sort out and calculate the bolt lengths as it is affected by the angle the shrouds meet the mast.
  • new VHF/AIS aerial (probably from Digital Yacht as we will probably use their AIS devices)
  • new deck/cockpit light (probably on the spreaders rather than the front of the mast so they light up the area for reefing the mizzen).

I have been looking up how to install wiring in a mast and avoid them rattling as the boat rolls. Seems the best way is to install electrical conduit and rivet it to the inside front of the mast. Not sure yet about this.

I also want to sort our lazy jacks for the mizzen to control the sail better when we lower it.

I have bought a rivet gun and (very expensive) Monel rivets (they are an inert metal which means no galvanic corrosion). I have also order Duralac which is used to insulate stainless steel from the aluminium.

At this point I’m in two minds about putting the mizzen mast up. It will be very handy for sorting the fit of the dyneema shrouds/chainplates; the solar panels; the pushpit and later the hydrovane. However, one of the beauties of the way we are fitting the dyneema shrouds is how easy it is to remove them from the mast when it isn’t up. If we don’t have the mast up all winter the boat will be quieter and there will be no wear or UV dammage on the shrouds or chainplates.

Anyway it is now raining and expected to rain all day on Tuesday, so back to inside jobs in the morning.

Heavy weather sailing tick box exercise

So I’ve just added the classic “Heavy Weather Sailing” 7th edition by Peter Bruce to our library.

Very interested to note how well our choices fit with the various chapters:

Chapter 1 on boat design could have taken the Rival range (although never mentioned) as a model. So we see the great designer Olin Stephens recommending:

  • balanced hull shape (Tick)
  • low freeboard (Tick)
  • small well drained cockpit (Tick)
  • two masts (Tick)
  • not too wide (Tick)
  • deeper rather than shallow hulls (Tick)
  • higher cabin sides (Tick)
  • strong keel (Tick)

In Chapter 2 on stability in breaking waves by Andrew Claughton we also tick lots of boxes

  • Our keel being a fairly long fin with a good skeg
  • balanced ends
  • lower freeboard with high coachroof
  • everything we see implies a Rival 38 should have a pretty good stability curve, we have heard that Peter Brett was very aware of the angle of vanishing stability (a point where the boat no longer tries to turn the right way up after being knocked over)
  • There is a table summarising the design influences on capsize and a Rival is pretty much solidly in the safer spectrum for them all.

The Jordan Series drogue gets it’s first mention, and they are all positive.

Chapter 3 on design trends by Peter Bruce

This puts the Rival in what seems to us to be a sweet spot after the development of fin keels but before dish shaped boats with small fins and spade rudders. This is a sweet spot for short handed cruising as faster, more modern designs tend to need to follow more active tactics. We are not going to have experienced racing dinghy sailors or surfers who can actively surf down huge waves safely so better have a design that doesn’t favour such tactics.

This is the first chapter to note the negative impact of roller furling sails on a boats stability (due to the extra weight up high when the sail is furled). That is one of the features of our desired long-term sail plan.

There is a concise but comprehensive list of questionable design features and we seem to be clear of them all (except I think we might want to strengthen our cockpit locker and we already know we need a way of securing our hatch boards). All the work to remove seacocks and only have composite ones fits too (although that post is now a bit out of date, with the electric motor we have only 2 seacocks below the waterline which are the e cockpit drains, we won’t have holes for the fridge or depth sounder and the 2 seacocks will be protected by a coffer dam so that a failure won’t cause us to sink).

Chapter 4 on Spars and rigging by Matthew Sheaham and Harry James

One point is the expectation that composite rigging such as Dyneema will one day be used universally with the weight reduction being a very significant gain for stability.

Another is more concerns about the weight of roller furled sails and the dangers of a failure. With slab reefing there are concerns about friction for systems brought back to the cockpit (ours are not).

Chapter 5 on Storm Sails by Peter Bruce and Richard Clifford.

Here we score well for plans although we haven’t got as far as implementing them. So adding our inner forestay to be used for either a staysail or a storm job is good.

We haven’t got as far as thinking much about practicalities for a trysail. We don’t currently have a track, a sail or anything. With a mizzen that can be reefed we do have an alternative so it isn’t quite as urgent.

Chapter 6 on preparations for heavy weather is mostly for the future but it does reinforce the desire for a Hydrovane. The section on fires adds weight to my plan to fit fuses at the battery terminals and to make sure the battery boxes are watertight. Having no fossil fuels aboard is clearly a significant safety feature.

Chapter 7 on the use of drag devices has clearly been updated with details on the Jordan Series drogue which are very positive with the only downside being the difficulty of recovery until conditions have moderated significantly. So nice to see our thinking reinforced.

That is all I have read fully so far, I can see from the “Storm Experiences” section that we are going to feel good about not having davits for our dinghy – but we think that is pretty obvious. We know we have a lot of experience of actual heavy weather that we need to build. However, I am reassured that much of our thinking is already validated by this highly respected book.

Electric Motor one thing that is not covered at all is having an electric motor. There is quite a lot on the advantages of a reliable diesel, but with the recognition that there can be significant problems (lines around the propeller after a rigging failure, flooding through the exhaust or engine room ventilation, extreme angles of heel causing problems, dirty fuel especially with sediment from the tanks. We have to make our plans with the assumption that we will not be able to use the electric motor for long enough to make it a viable tactic for anything but manoeuvring assistance. As we have written before we think this is better than an over dependence on a diesel, in particular a false sense of security that it will always work see Another example of why to switch away from Diesel and Losing a diesel engine for safety

Scenes of devastation

A very wet day yesterday and I had some work to do. So we didn’t make any boat progress.

Today with an uncertain forecast we have been doing some jobs inside.

Jane has continued to coat the mizzen supports and bed headboard with epoxy. Should be ready to paint next weekend.

I’ve started on the starboard side of the main saloon. We have been debating what to do with this ever since we bought Vida.

The original seat backrest was hinged so that it could be lifted flat to become a pilot berth. The cushion (like all the others) was smelly and disgusting, it was glued to the very thick and heavy ply backrest. The backrest wasn’t in quite the right place for it to be a really comfortable seat (too long a squab and too sloping backrest).

We have been wondering whether to fit a new pilot berth, however it would only be needed if we were passage making with a crew of four (we can already sleep two in the saloon which is fine with a crew of three) and it was too rough to be comfortable for someone to use the aft cabin. So we are holding off on that for the moment.

As we looked at all this in terms of fitting the new backing plates for the dyneema chainplates we decided that we would go for a full change. The cupboards were mouldy and smelly. The underside of the cupboards (which is above you when you sleep) was also mouldy. The plywood hull lining needed to be cut away for the full chainplate backing plates, also to allow us to fit some insulation.

In the next pictures you can see the piece of plywood we used to test the position we want the backrest. It will allow us to gain 150mm of extra cupboard depth. The pictures show the cupboards without the doors which show how difficult access would be to prepare for and fit the backing plates. You can also see the fluxgate compass for the Neco self steering and to the right of that there is extensive water damage to the bulkhead veneer (leaks from the old windows and dorade vent).

Taking it all apart created a fair bit of mess, full suit, mask and ear protection needed. However, it didn’t take too long and this is what we have now.

Once, we have fitted the backing plates I will be creating a replacement for the mini bulkhead that the cap shroud chainplate extension was bolted to. I’ll fit one each side of the dyneema knot at the end of the chainplate loop. They will be tied to the backing plate and the hull with big epoxy fillets and GRP cloth tabs. The lower end will be shaped to “hook” over the stringer so that it is all locked together.

Before that I need to remove the ply soffitt, as it is in poor condition, remove the backing plates for the mooring cleats and grind/sand it all clean and smooth.

To finish we will be fitting 20mm of closed cell insulation to the hull under the deck and between the stringers. Where this is visible we will cover it with thin plywood painted very light grey.

Our backrest is going to be made from individual planks with cushion attached. These will stack on top of each other in slots at the ends of the settee. When sleeping they lift out, turn around and drop into slots on the inner edge of the settee to act as leeboards to hold you in the bed when the boat heels. As they are lifted up from being the backrest they reveal your bedding and extra width to the bed.

Instead of cupboards I am going to make plywood boxes that are exactly shaped to fit against the hull. The will slide onto rails fitted underneath the deck with simple catches to hold them in place. We might possibly divide them up into two rows so that none of them are to heavy to lift out when full. The sides will be partially fabric to save weight and provide ventilation to avoid mould.

We hope to end up with a more comfortable seat, a better bed and more storage with less damp and more warmth due to the insulation and far better access to all the through deck fittings including the dyneema chainplates (which will also be stronger due to the much larger and more rigid backing plates). All the structure of this shouldn’t add any weight and might well reduce it. Win, win 🙂

Gearing up for fast summer progress

Besides the actual work we have been sharing we are also trying to get everything ready for us to make real progress during our summer holiday on the boat.

Just a couple of weekends to go. So we have been doing some buying and have to plan what we are going to take with us. We need to find a balance between having everything we need and having space for everything. Also between good and bad weather jobs. Last summer we had 3 named storms during two weeks on the boat which kept us from many outside jobs.

One significant thing (both in cost and the progress it will unlock) is our bow roller. The local Anglesey Fabrication company have our template and are going to adapt the existing bow roller. They are going to make the central spine larger and replace the two outer sides. This is essential for the changes to our foredeck including anchor windlass and inner forestay. Plus we can’t get the main mast up until it is back in place as the forestay attaches to it.

Meanwhile all the FR4 board has arrived for the main mast chainplates. Also various bits such as the next hole saw size we need, extra mask filters and new orbital sander pad.

Jane is also working flat out on the aft cabin cushions with a target for them and the remaining work in the cabin to be completed by our holiday so we can move back to sleeping there.

One of other things we hope to try out during our holiday is our Highfield Rib dinghy with ePropulsion electric outboard motor. So I’ve bought some launching wheels for it so that we need neither carry it nor drag it up the beach. The ones I have chosen have two pads bolted to the Aluminum transom. The removable legs attach either upwards for storage or down for wheeling the boat around. I’m not super impressed as it looks like they need some adjusting with a dremel for the locking pins to fit. I’ll share details when I’ve got them working.

Once the main mast is up we want to lift the dinghy and start storing it on deck (at least until we launch, thereafter we will need to keep it at home again).

Keeping track of the dependencies between jobs, the budget, the space on the boat, what weather will permit and what we are storing at home so that we can be really productive is making my head hurt 😂

Bow roller for anchoring progress

Yesterday evening I updated the template for our extension to the existing bow roller.

It doesn’t look quite so massive now. It has holes in the right places for attaching the forestay, yankee furler, anchor rollers and anchor retainers. The anchor retainers will be adjustable plates bolted to this, they will be connected by a roller which will stop the shank wandering around and damaging the dyneema rigging when the anchor is being raised or lowered.

Both the forestay and yankee will have a pair of stainless plates bolted to the assembly so that the dyneema attachment is well clear of any possible chafe damage.

We will need two almost identical copies of this template (the one in the middle needs a little cutout for the round pulpit socket). At the aft end they will be connected by a plate which will be through bolted to the deck in a couple of places. We will have a third shorter copy for the port side of the second roller (we don’t need that to come all the way aft as it won’t be used for storing an anchor.

We will then create a V shaped pad that will attach to the bow (where the narrow piece goes down the outside of the bow) which the anchor will wedge against when fully raised (so that it doesn’t move when hit by waves).

Next task is to get a price for the stainless, the cutting and welding.

Autopilot progress

On Friday, while preparing to fit the backing plate in the cockpit locker we decided to remove the drive unit for the  original Neco autopilot.

This is a beefy electric motor that uses a chain drive onto one of the shafts of the Whitlock steering system. From all we can find out about this it is definitely worth keeping. It seems to be highly regarded although it predates the availability of small affordable permanent magnets, that have transformed electric motors.

The bracket it sat on had a lot of loose rust on it. This mostly seems to have come from elsewhere, probably the old fridge condenser. A bit of sanding shows that all it needs is cleaning and painting (and new bolts).

However, the controller is in much poorer condition.

Also it doesn’t fit what we want from an electronic autopilot. For us there are three key missing features.

  • Click on from standby to continue on the current course. Something has happened and I need my hands to do something (adjust a sheet, do some navigation, take a cup of coffee from below, move to get a better view under the sails). This should be a one button press and be almost instant. With this unit you first have to turn it’s compass setting to your current course and then turn it on. That means looking at the compass then looking at and adjusting the compass dial on the Neco and then switching it on (except currently there is no on/off switch so you had to go below and turn it on at the circuit breaker).
  • Tack. When sailing singlehanded we can’t reach the genoa sheets from our steering wheel (and certainly will need both hands to tack the genoa). With a good autopilot you click the on button and the the tack port or tack starboard buttons. The autopilot does the steering to tack the boat while you sort out the sheets for the sails. With the Neco you have to work out what course you want to be on after the tack and turn to that (quick what is 47 degrees less 90? – which is what you have to work out if you are on starboard tack steering 47 degrees and need to tack. The answer is 317 degrees).
  • Steer true course rather than heading. Due to tides and leeway, the actual direction a boat goes in is rarely exactly the same as you are steering. The Neco doesn’t handle this well. All you can do is enter the heading. Modern autopilots can do either and they generally have quick buttons to adjust the course a degree or 10 at a time. Again with the Neco all you can do is turn the compass rose to the heading you want.

So what are we planning?

Our plans are changing a bit. Ideally we would be fitting a Hydrovane Wind Vane for self-steering before our launch. However, at nearly £6,000 it will have to wait for a bit. So the cheapest solution to having some self-steering is to use this existing drive unit with a new controller.

The controller we are looking at is essentially a DIY system using the PyPilot software running on a RaspberryPi Zero W with various boards and sensors attached. It can have a screen and be controlled by a keypad, a remote control device or a mobile phone. It can also integrate with the OpenCPN chartplotter software that we intend to use.

There are people who have got PyPilot working with Neco drive units so whilst it isn’t a small, simple task it is perfectly doable.

This isn’t a replacement for the Hydrovane (that has big advantages in not using any electricity and providing an emergency rudder).

Eventually we want to end up with a whole range of steering options (sorted by preference when cruising):

  • Wind vane (probably a Hydrovane) which is independent of everything else and steers us at a constant angle to the wind.
  • Neco drive unit controlled by a Raspberry Pi running PyPilot.
  • Standard hand steering using the wheel (primary choice in confined spaces)
  • Emergency tiller steering. We have a two part metal tiller that is stored under the aft cabin bunk. By lifting the cushions and opening a hole in the deck we can put the emergency tiller on top of the rudder shaft and steer from the aft cabin roof. Useful if if any part of the connections from the steering wheel fails.
  • Emergency tiller attached to the wind vane for hand steering (built into a Hydrovane and an optional extra for a Cape Horn wind vane).

We have also considered adding a tiller autopilot attached to the wind vane. Both the HydroVane and Cape Horn vane steering allow an electric tiller autopilot, designed for smaller boats, to steer the boat via the wind vane system. However, if the Neco unit can work we probably don’t need this (at least for a long time, we might like the extra backup on very long ocean crossings). Meanwhile it saves us another £1,000 or so.

This feels like a good project for winter nights, and if we can’t find time before the launch I can do it on the water providing I have bought the bits.

Low down progress

On Saturday we managed a few jobs that are about as low as we can get.

Water getting low in the wrong places

During the heavy rain on Friday we discovered a key source of the water in the (very deep) bilge at the aft end of the keel. I’d left a few holes in the floor of the anchor locker when we had removed the old windlass and chain guide. So water getting into the anchor locker was falling into the chain locker, from there it flowed down a hose (so that it gets past the shower sump) onto the front end of the keel (where we had cut the old hose so for the first time we could see the water coming in, when we had the floor up).

So I filled the holes and we went down in the depths (currently about 1m below the electric motor frame) and pumped out 5 buckets of water (we had removed a lot more with a temporary bilge pump a few weekends ago).

Battery storage on the keel

With a dry bilge we did some cutting and planing of the battery box we had started months ago (when the 120AH batteries were going to have to sit above the motor). It now fits on the keel under the companionway and saloon floor.

It just needs ply ends, epoxy coating and the batteries installing. A battery box for the 4 x 300AH will sit on top of it (one of these batteries will be behind this and a bit higher as it is behind the ladder and the space is not wide enough at that point).

Fortunately all the lower 120AH batteries and the 300AH at the aft end have bluetooth enabled BMS (battery monitoring systems) as these will be quite inaccessible. The other 3 x 300AH will be easily visible to check.

We will make these boxes as watertight as we can and they will be fixed in place so that there is no danger of a couple of hundred kilo’s of battery smashing everything and everyone should we ever be rolled over.

We have also done some detailed design work for how we plan to connect the battery banks. We are (seemingly unusually) planning to keep them entirely separate as it isn’t a good idea to combine different sizes of battery into a single bank. We want the flexibility of using each bank for either house or motor depending on need. However, never both connected to either house or motor at the same time. We also want to be able to direct the solar panel charging to either bank according to need. The 70A mains charger built into the Victron MultiPlus II will always go to whichever bank is connected to house (so when we connect to mains we always put the most depleted bank as the house to get charged first) .

Water in the right places

We think we can fit a 70 litre water tank in front of the batteries and an 18 litre one in front of that. Plus another 18 litre tank under the aft most 300AH battery. Finally one more 18 litre tank in the forward top half of the bilge under the motor.  That makes 124 litres nice and low down that will all be fully plumped in (you get a set of taps to choose which tank the water comes from for a tap or the shower).

In addition we think we can fit 4 x 25 litre portable water tanks above the propeller shaft aft of the motor. As well as taking us to 224 litres in total, these will be convenient for collecting water in the dinghy (providing we take a trolley to save carrying them by hand).

This should be plenty of water for coastal cruising but we still need more (and would like a watermaker) for ocean crossings.

Dave not getting stuck in the bottom

Using a temporary “ladder” I went into the cockpit locker to check the setting on the dehumidifier and the position of the forward mizzen chainplate.

Low on money

Well not so much low as actually sitting down to price all the things we need to be able to launch in March 2022 (in time for a 3 month sabbatical). It is a long list, however, it looks manageable and there are not so many unknowns now. Actually a bit of a confidence builder.

Lower Mast

Next will be back to tasks to get the mizzen mast (the lower one) back up but with dyneema rigging. In part that is to prove the chainplate and rigging design but also so that we can sort out the windvane self-steering, pushpit and aft solar panels. We still need to finish the new supports for the foot of the mizzen mast, cut and fit the backing plates for the forward stays and running backstays. Also need to finish repairing the pillar drill to make the tangs (and order the bolts for them). Then we can add the FR4 backing plates (and the on deck “mushrooms”, do the drilling for the chainplate dyneema loops and then make all the chainplate loops and shrouds/stays.

All that will allow us to finish the aft cabin, at least for the moment. The bed head needs finishing as it is part of the mizzen mast foot support. We need the step onto the seat to get to the bed, cabin sides need insulating (ceiling etc can wait as can the headlining). Then a quick paint and we can move back in (hopefully the work Jane is doing at home to remodel the bed mattress will be finished).

A restful wet day

We had a wet journey here and it continued to rain until mid evening.

In fact as we parked several puddles decided to flow into the area we parked in, close to the boat. So after trying to jump to get to the boat with dry feet I simply swapped trainers and socks for crocs are bare feet by that time it was ankle deep.

So after a very busy and physical week it has been good to rest, to update our budget and check a few things.

The battery box we built thinking it would go above the motor will fit as a waterproof battery box on top of the keel right in the centre of the boat. So 4 x 120AH Lithium Iron Phosphate weighing 56.8kg as low as possible.

Above that will go another waterproof box for the 4 x 300AH LiFePO4 batteries. They weigh 150.8kg. They wouldn’t fit in the same orientation if they were the bottom layer which means there would be a lot of wasted space.

Instead of the wasted space there will be room for a smaller water tank in front of the battery boxes. We will need to add extra water tanks elsewhere so that we have enough capacity even for a Pacific crossing.

This evening we have been watching YouTube videos and relaxing. Now high tide so will be lulled to sleep by the waves breaking on the beach.

Short and Longer term plans for Instruments, Navigation, Communications, Safety

True to form we are going to be ripping out all the original instruments, after 44 years they are all well past their useful life. Both the speed and depth sensors used holes in the hull (and we are determined to minimise holes!). Nothing is connected to anything else and their were no updates to technologies such as DSC on the VHF radio (allows private direct calls between radios), AIS (potential to receive and transmit details of your boat, location, speed and direction for warnings of potential collisions), or GPS (position). Even the compass has problems as it’s light doesn’t work and there is air inside it instead of oil.

Later we need to get onto other essentials such as navigation lights, as the current ones are all either broken or very UV damaged and none of then are LED.

When thinking about instruments and navigation there are almost an infinite number of options available and the choice can be bewildering. Hence, a very common choice is to fully equip with a range of sensors and multi-function displays from a single manufacturer connected using (for new systems) NMEA 2000 (a wiring and data standard). However, this is way beyond our budget (probably by at least an order of magnitude). The biggest names supplying everything are B&G, Raymarine and Garmin.

Obviously, there are significant advantages in buying a complete set of instruments, and electronics from one company. Principally it should all connect and integrate seamlessly. Installation should be simpler and the learning curve should be reduced.

However, there are disadvantages besides the cost.

  • With a fully integrated system you can only see the output from a sensor (for example the depth) if the sensor, the network, the system cpu and a multifunction display are all powered and working. That is a lot of potential points of failure and potentially a lot of power consumption.
  • Another disadvantage is the extent to which you get locked (literally or emotionally) into a single ecosystem. That means when you decide to add something new (for example connecting to the boat systems using your phone over the Internet) you might find yourself waiting for the one supplier to add this feature or unlock it for others to connect to.
  • Until you start connecting items from other manufacturers you can never be quite sure how standards compliant the system is. So if a sensor breaks do you buy what is available locally or wait until you can get something from the same manufacturer?

At the other end of scale are the cheap but not connected products. For example you can have  standalone depth sounder (sensor and display), a GPS, a VHF radio with AIS that doesn’t share the data with anything else.

In the middle are options to buy individual items that can be connected using a standard interface (most commonly now NMEA 2000). This way you can start with specific paired sensors and displays (such as wind speed and direction) that can later be connected to other things. With some skill and luck you can mix and match from different manufacturers.

Once you have fully integrated instruments and navigation you can have a big chart plotter screen that doesn’t just show the chart and your position but adds radar overlays and AIS targets and predictions based on wind speed/direction (current as well as forecast), even camera views can be added. But at this point you have gone beyond the data speed/capacity of NMEA and are needing to look at using WiFi.

That brings us to some leading edge developments that are starting to bring in new competition and disrupt the marketplace. Principally Bluetooth LE, WiFi, 4G and solar.

An obvious example is to have a solar powered, wireless wind sensor for the top of the mast. This is potentially much simpler and more reliable than running data and power cables in the mast. The traditional companies now have these. However, they typically wirelessly connect with a proprietary protocol to a little black box that is physically connected to the NMEA 2000 network. As far as the rest of the system is concerned it appears exactly the same as a wired sensor. An alternative is skip a few technological steps and use other standards, such as Bluetooth. This means you can have a solar powered, wireless wind sensor that connects directly to your phone which displays the data using your choice of app. No NMEA network, no other devices needed.

Also there are more options than just the proprietary NMEA standard. For example there are black boxes available that connect to NMEA 2000 and make the data available over open Internet standards (both WiFi and wired). The Bluetooth sensor companies are also adding black boxes that connect their devices to NMEA.

Another development is to bring the Internet culture of Open Standards and Free Software, that can run on a variety of different hardware, to the marine instrument and navigation arena. Two notable examples are SignalK (an open standard that replaces NMEA and runs on Internet standards) and OpenCPN which is a free/open navigation tool (runs on many operating systems and also phones).

At this point these are not really mature consumer options, they require a fair bit of DIY (potentially to the level of soldering circuit boards), some familiarity with system setup & administration and even programming.

Given the constraints of our budget and time, the lack of anything to build upon, we have decided to get afloat with the things we see as essential, have them mostly standalone with goals of low cost, reliability, simplicity, low power consumption and the ability to add more DIY functionality later.

Instruments

Compass: New bulkhead compass to replace the original “Big Ben”. Not connected to anything but a light (at the end of the day a compass, a watch, a sextant and paper charts make a safe fallback situation that should be available even after a lightning strike)

Depth: Our first choice would be an in hull depth sensor (no hole in the boat needed) with a dedicated screen (with features such as a shallow water alarm) plus interconnection potential so that in the future  we could check the depth on our phones while ashore (in case we have miscalculated the tides and we are about to go aground, could also be that the wind changed and blew you into shallower water). Unfortunately, I haven’t found this combination so we will probably go for the Nasa Clipper Depth (approx £130) which doesn’t have any connectivity options at the moment.

Wind Speed and Direction: We want a wind instrument that uses a solar powered, wireless sensor at the top of the mast – that means one less wire in the mast, and one less hole in the deck to leak (hence a much simpler installation). This eliminates one of the most common causes of problems (the wire or the connections) and must surely reduce the chance of lightning taking out all your instruments. We want it’s own dedicated display for installation simplicity and to increase reliability by keeping the number of points of failure down. However, we also want the option to be able to connect it to other devices in the future. That allows better information on the chart plotter. Much more than that, by connecting NMEA to our Raspberry Pi systems (probably via SignalK) we can connect phones locally using wifi and remotely via 4g over the Internet. Not only does that let you to display things on your phone such as a graph of wind direction and speed over say 24 hours, but it also lets you pick that up while the boat is anchored and you are shopping. Then you can see if there might be a problem coming (is there a wind increase that will make it harder to get back in the dinghy? Or might your drying laundry be about to blow away?). The Clipper Wireless Wind (True) looks a good initial option (but only Nasa themselves seem to be selling the True wind version at the moment at £373) . While we would not have the true wind display initially, it would be available once we connect it to NMEA with a GPS device also connected. An alternative would be the innovative OpenWind.de solar, Bluetooth LE but it is over £100 more and we would have to use a phone as the display until we have a connected computer display.

No speed: We are not going to have any measure of speed through the water. It always requires a hole in the boat so we are ruling it out. We will rely on GPS (and there are going to be multiple GPS systems). These can now use multiple satellite systems which improves reliability. They don’t allow us to directly see the effect of tide or current but we feel this is something we can live with for reliability (the paddle wheels used in the ones we could afford are vulnerable to damage and growth) and safety (look at the Sailing Zingaro where he nearly sank his Oyster because the speed sensor leaked and note that he should have also had a working bilge water alarm and automatic bilge pump as we already have ready to install).

Navigation

Initially we are going to use our phones and Android tablet. There are plenty of apps that we can use. I’d like to start with OpenCPN which is what we eventually plan to run on Raspberry Pi computers.

While I have most of the stuff to setup the Raspberry Pi navigation system (and there will be lots to write about that in the future) I doubt I will have time before our first launch. Maybe it will be a project whilst we are out sailing on my sabbatical – but I don’t want it to be something we rely on without a lot more time to develop and test it. Even then I’m not planning to have it as the only way to view instruments or navigate – just too risky.

In the long term though the plan is for a “chartplotter” in the cockpit that can be seen and controlled when steering. It will be powered by a Raspberry Pi 4 below decks controlling a 15.6″ touch screen (with the option of bringing out a wireless keyboard and mouse in suitable conditions). This will display a chart with the boat position and AIS overlay. So it will be used primarily for live navigation.

We will have another Raspberry Pi 4 below, using a 21″ TV as it’s display (again a wireless keyboard and mouse). This will be able to function as a chartplotter (principally for planning, backup and keeping an eye on things when nipping below when on watch). It will also run our entertainment, office and editing software. We will have a 3rd system (with a more basic screen) pre-configured and up-to-date that will be wrapped with a battery in multiple layers of foil and plastic that will act as a Faraday cage so that it should survive a lightning strike.

Communications

We do have a basic handheld VHF radio which we will keep for emergencies and dinghy to boat communications (bit with mobile phones likely to be the preferred option if there is a signal).

We will add a fixed VHF radio with DSC and a new aerial. Possibly something like a basic ICOM IC-M330GE for around £200

We will setup a WiFi network for the boat and eventually we would like to add a full 4G mobile connection to that using big aerials to pick up a mobile phone signal several miles offshore.

Safety

AIS: We will install a minimum of a full Class B AIS system that both transmits and receives. We are looking for models from Digital Yacht that provide a WiFi interface (simplest for both our Android devices and Raspberry Pi’s). So at the budget end an iAISTX for £522.00

I think that if we upgraded to the iAISTX plus version (£642) which has an NMEA interface then it should be possible to connect the AIS to the VHF DSC system allowing you to pick a target and directly connect to them on the VHF using DSC. So if the AIS tells you that a ship will collide with you 5 miles ahead then you can call them to ask what they plan to do about it. Without this you can find the call details on the AIS and manually put them into the VHF (tricky if it is rough and you are stressed/tired and the wind is changing etc).

If we could afford it I would like the Digital Yacht Class B+ device as it transmits at twice the power. Hence, we would be detected by ships at a much greater range than 8 to 10 miles as well as more reliably in very busy areas with lots of signals. However, the AIT5000 with WiFi is £1,074.

Whichever AIS we get, we will add a Man Overboard alarm and Man Overboard devices to our life jackets. That means if we fall into the water an alarm automatically goes off on our boat (and any others within range) and the chartplotter will show the position of the person in the water so that you can find them again.

The AIS will probably use an aerial splitter so that it can share the aerial with the VHF radio.

Radar: For the foreseeable future radar will remain on our “would be nice to have” list. Cost is approaching £2,000 for the radar dome, mounting bracket etc. OpenCPN already includes support for a growing number of Radars so you can see the radar scan on top of the chart (makes it easier to work out if the radar image is showing land, rain, a ship or a buoy). For collision avoidance we think AIS is much cheaper, it gives much more accurate and detailed information, however not all vessels have it. Radar is great for fog, rain squalls and navigation in busy waters at night. Radar is much better for detecting fishing boats (who frequently don’t want to advertise their position on AIS).

At first launch

So we will have the following before we launch:

  • Compass
  • Depth with dedicated display
  • Apparent Wind speed and direction with dedicated display
  • 2 phones and a tablet all with chartplotter software and charts (with waterproof cockpit mounts and USB charging)
  • AIS class B (displaying on the phones and tablet) with MOB alarm
  • AIR MOB transmitters for our life jackets
  • VHF radio

Medium term

  • connect the devices that support it, with NMEA 2000 (gives true wind on the Clipper Wind, AIS integration with the Radio (including MOB support)
  • Raspberry Pi 4 powered chartplotter in the cockpit
  • Raspberry Pi 4 powered chartplotter, office and entertainment in the saloon
  • Spare Raspberry Pi system in Faraday cage

Long Term

  • Long range 4g connection for the whole boats WiFi
  • Additional sensors and monitoring through a web interface on all our devices anywhere as long as boat and we have an internet connection (battery state, solar, motor temperature, tanks levels, bilge pump alarms, lots of environment data such as temperature and humidity etc)
  • Mast mounted forward looking camera with night vision for watch keeping
  • Security cameras
  • Radar
  • Long range WiFi connection for the whole boat (as free WiFi comes to more places)
  • Extra Raspberry Pi powered screen in the cockpit for a customised dashboard next to the chart (wind, depth, battery, solar, cameras, AIS text).
  • Automation (alerts to phones, full management of solar power including control of dump power – eg heat water, run dehumidifier, electric blankets, boat heating)
  • Add PyPilot software to control original electric autopilot motor

That should be enough to keep us going for a while and also plenty to spend our entire living budget for several years  – which gives an idea of how much of it will happen 🙂