Thursday, February 27, 2014

Radar in Seattle

As I mentioned last week, one of my purchases in the US this trip was a new-to-us Garmin radome.  Its actually about 3 years old but appears in good condition.  And it works. 

I had to wait until the 3210 chartplotter that I also bought on eBay arrived.  I bought it as a 3010 chartplotter but when it arrived it turned out to be a model 3210.  There’s not much difference but the 3210 does have extensive charts embedded in the firmware so one more potential expense averted.  The big expense aversion came when I started the installation. 

Gray Hawk had 2 “mushroom” GPS antennas installed when we bought her.  There’s a JRC antenna up on the spreaders, near the top of the mast and there was a small Garmin antenna on the port side, in a really stupidly inconvenient location mounted to the SS rail on the flybridge.  Despite my frequent attempts to coax life out of each of the antennas, both had remained stubbornly silent until a few days ago.  I almost cut the Garmin cable last spring when Marilyn bought the kayaks.  The antenna was in such an ignorant location and it was interfering with our plans to hang the kayaks in brackets on the outside of the flybridge.  When I was installing the brackets I had to do something with the Garmin antenna and I almost cut the cable and did a buoyancy test on it.  Fortunately I just unscrewed it and laid it down on the nearby bench to deal with later. 

The new chartplotter needed  some source for GPS position information.  That could have come from our existing chartplotter setup and that was my initial intent.  At the same time I couldn’t help thinking that a completely standalone system was better in terms of the system redundancy that it provides.  As you may recall, I have been justifying the not inconsiderable expense of this upgrade by telling myself that we are gaining significant redundancy in our systems.  The radar is completely redundant but as it turns out I was able to get us redundancy in our navigation system as well.

I’ve made several return trips to 2nd Wave but they didn’t have any Garmin GPS antennas so I took another look at the one I already had.  And it turned out that it is exactly the model recommended for my new chartplotter.  Further, the chartplotter installation instructions contained the missing link for getting my existing antenna to finally turn itself on.  It turns out that just providing it power and waiting for it to start talking is not enough.  In order for it to work it needs power & ground – no surprises there.  It needs  a (+) and (-) NMEA connection – again, no surprises.  But it also needs its yellow wire connected to ground to tell its miserable stubborn little brain to turn on.  A few days ago I jury rigged everything up to test it and, wonder of wonders, got a GPS fix out of the Garmin antenna.

It wasn’t quite that simple but I won’t bore you with all those details except to say that the guy who sold me the chartplotter evidently owns some kind of a marine electronics store.  He clearly got my power cable confused with someone else’s cable because while my cable fit the connector on the back of the display the colour code on the wires bore no resemblance whatsoever to what Garmin said the colours should be and the tag on the cable made no mention of Garmin.  Of course I blithely hooked everything up according to Garmin’s code, jury rigged some power connections, pushed the ON button and saw absolutely nothing happen.  Two hours later after I had ohmed out the 18 pinouts on the cable and cross referenced the real colours to what the installation manual referred to I tried it again and this time everything worked.  Then there were a few further incidents involving Cat 5 cable and bad crimps but today its all good and we have 2 functioning radars plus 2 fully capable navigation systems.  I haven’t tried connecting the Garmin nav system to the autopilot and I don’t intend to do that immediately.  In theory there’s no reason why they couldn’t both be hooked up but if I happened to activate a route on both systems its hard to say what the nav computer might think – it would kind of be like driving with your wife and mother-in-law both giving directions.

George – Gray Hawk’s previous owner – has been by for a couple of visits.  The last time he was here he came dashing back, very excited, to tell me that there is another Defever 43 on A-dock about 2 slips further in from where we are on B-dock.  I went over and had a look at it one day.  I can’t tell if its the same 43 that we looked at in Anacortes prior to buying Gray Hawk but I think it may be.  I took some pictures of that boat at the time but I think I’ve since deleted them.  My feeling at the time was that if someone gave that boat to us we might be able to get it back in the water for about the same money that we would have to spend to buy Gray Hawk, if we wanted it to be in comparable condition to Gray Hawk. 


There’s a little crane on the flybridge that appeals to me.  We’ve got one that George built but it doesn’t work worth a damn.  This one looks like it might actually be usable.  I’ve also considered a vertical mast with some kind of a boom that could be swung over the aft deck.  I need to do something with the one we’ve got – either take it out and sell it for scrap stainless or fix it so it is usable.


The main feature that I found interesting on this boat is the fact that someone has had passive stabilizers on her at some point.  They are not presently installed but there’s a bracket under the flybridge and another one on the rubrail that could only have been used for stabilizers.  I doubt I’ll ever put them on Gray Hawk but I have thought about it. so it was interesting to see how someone has dealt with that on our hull.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Busy, busy, busy in Seattle

Its hard to believe another week has gone by and we’ve only got a week left here.  Time flies when you are working on a boat I guess.


That’s the view on the famous sonar that I wrote about last week.  It has consumed a lot of my time and attention for the past week.  You have to have a good imagination to interpret the screen image but on the off chance that someone is interested, here’s what you are looking at.  Bear in mind that I have a LOT to learn so there is likely much that I am missing.  It also helps that I can clearly see the world around me and use that information to interpret what I am seeing on the sonar screen.  If you are going to try to follow this explanation it will probably help to enlarge the image and keep it handy while you read on.

The scan is set to 180 degrees – we can set it anywhere from roughly a 10 or 15 degree wedge to a 360 degree full circle and then we can turn the dome to point it forward, backward, sideways or anywhere in between.  The four squiggly red blobs in the top half of the blue semi-circle are the keels of the four vessels in front of us.  In the upper left corner you can see that the beam is set to zero degrees which means it is looking horizontally forward from a position about 4.5 feet below the waterline (our deepest draft).  The relatively heavy red line though the centre of the image is the floating dock.  We could use the cursor to measure how deep it is but that is too difficult to show – you’ll have to take my word for it being about 5’ below the water level. 

The big challenge this week was getting the display to reliably light up when I turned it on.  That turned out to be as simple as building a new coax cable to hook the display up to the control box.  The coax that came with the boat looked good which was what kept me trying to make it work for so long – it was a professionally made cable with two BNC male connectors and then a BNC to RCA adapter.  I think the adapter was actually bad – it worked a lot of the time but whenever I turned the sonar on it was always a crap shoot as to whether anything was going to appear on the display.  Having bought the display used from unknown sources I was more disposed to blame it than an apparently good (and incredibly simple) short piece of coax but eventually I rode the bus to Radio Scrap and got me some new BNC and RCA cable ends.  I had some coax onboard from when we replaced radios so it didn’t take long to build a new cable and the display has worked flawlessly ever since.


That’s our new-to-us Garmin radome.  It came from some dude in Maine who had it advertised on  I agonized over whether I should buy it and then worried myself silly about how to hook it up.  In theory I can display its output on our open source chartplotting software.  Ultimately I just couldn’t convince myself that system would be an adequate redundant radar system.  The whole point of adding a second radar is to have a second radar.  Actually to have a primary radar that is more current technology than the 30+ year old system we currently use.  This radome is only 3 years old and supposed to be in like new condition – it certainly looks to be good. 

After the radome arrived I initially thought I could convince myself to just use the radome and display it directly in OpenCPN but ultimately I talked myself out of that plan.  According to the USPS tracking system I have a Garmin 3010 chartplotter arriving tomorrow from somewhere in Florida.  That chartplotter could be up to 10 years old but it is supposed to be in working condition.  Assuming it all works, it will give us complete redundancy in both our charting and radar systems.  The Garmin system will be entirely separate from the system that we currently use other than that it will be capable of driving the autopilot and outputting position information to the radio.  We’re pretty well out of space around the helm so I’ll have to either stop buying instrumentation or start removing old instruments before I add new ones.

The yellow hose underneath the radome in the picture is Van’s hookah system which he very generously gave us last weekend after Nancy fed us an incredible meal.  I told him he should keep it in case they buy another boat but he said that was unlikely and if they do he still has all his free diving equipment.  “Hookah” for those of you who don’t know, just means air supplied diving equipment that isn’t self contained – ie. the air comes down a hose from the surface.  Most often Hookahs will have a compressor on the surface supplying the air but we won’t go that far.  We’ll just carry a couple of air tanks and keep them full.  All we need is enough air to clear the prop when our idiot captain fouls the prop on a line.  And perhaps enough air for the same idiot captain to check zincs or even replace a zinc away from the Cow Bay dock.  As long as Terry-the-diver is willing to clean the bottom and change the zincs for $100 we’ll keep using him but he doesn’t make housecalls to Desolation Sound.  Or even to Victoria as we discovered last spring.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Locking through in Seattle

Every time I run into George, the previous owner of Gray Hawk, he wants to know whether we have used the scanning sonar that he installed.  I’m sure its top of mind, mainly because he spent a lot of money on the project.  I think he said 20 thousand at one point and I have no trouble believing that. 

He had to haul the boat, chop a hole in the middle of the keel, mount a 4 foot long tube, fair the opening where the tube and sonar emerge from the keel and then do all the electronic and cable installation. Plus buying the equipment of course.  He never used the boat so he never used the sonar and the simple truth is that we haven’t used it either.  Actually it was kind of a pain in the ass to use because the display screen he installed was a TV that was supposed to just sit on the dash.  I guess that was fine if you never left the dock but it didn’t work worth crap in a rough sea.  So we never used it.  In fact last spring when we moved back to the prairies we took the TV with us and briefly used it as a TV.

Fast forward to this trip to Seattle and we had George and his bride onboard for supper.  Sure enough, almost the first words out of his mouth were “so how’s that sonar working?”  And of course I had to fess up that we haven’t turned it on.  I neglected to point out that not only had we not used it, we had rendered it unusable by removing the TV.

After George and Catherine left I got to thinking that we really should use the sonar.  At the very least its a damn good depth sounder and it has the potential to be a whole lot more than that.  The way it works is the sonar head emerges below the boat and then we can control the scan area – everything from a narrow (maybe 15 degree) window to a 360 degree scan.  We can look just to one side or just ahead or set it to constantly sweep all around the boat.  We can also control the angle of the head from about 5 degrees up to 90 degrees straight down.  Its really a very powerful piece of equipment, and no doubt it cost George plenty.  Two years ago in Port Angeles we had a commercial fisherman onboard explaining how they use this particular model to search for schools of fish.  Somewhere I wrote down what he explained. 

Of course I didn’t have a display, having turned it back into a TV, but I was wandering around in 2nd Wave, the local marine consignment store, and I happened upon a 12 volt 10 inch square VGA display.  I have no idea what it may originally have been installed in but it is literally made to order for our sonar system.  I plugged the display in at 2nd Wave and it powered up so I coughed up the 30 bucks they wanted and brought it home.  It took a little fiddling with settings and I think I still  have a boogy cable but it works just fine.  Yesterday I got it more or less installed but I’m still looking for a power connection and I think I’ll get a new piece of coax made up for it.

Today we caught the bus to the Hiram M. Chittenden locks, AKA “Ballard Locks”.  They’ve been in use since the early 1900’s acting as the gateway between Puget Sound and Lake Union.  We briefly discussed mooring on Lake Union this trip but ruled it out because we thought the locks were too scary.  We couldn’t have been more wrong. 


There’s two locks, side by side.  This is the small lock in the middle of the channel with the dam and fish ladder to the south of it. 


This is a small boat waiting on the Puget Sound side of the locks, under the bascule bridge for the railway.  If you look close, the bridge is actually open because a big tug was coming in.


This is the tug coming into the big lock.  The smaller lock is to the right of this picture. 


And here’s that same small boat that was waiting under the bridge.  On this lock you have to handle the lines.  If you look close you can see lines running up to the top of the lock from the smaller boat.  As the lock fills the deckhands on the boat will have to keep taking up the slack.  Going down they would have to keep paying out line.  When the boats first arrive on this side, the lock tenders throw light lines down from the top.  They expect you to tie their lines to the loop end of your lines and then they pull them up and loop them over a cleat.

IMG_6856 This is the moment after the gates opened in front of the tug.  It was surprising how little time it took to fill that huge space with water.  I doubt it took 5 minutes to raise the boats about 15 feet.


And finally here’s two boats locking down in the small lock.  On this side there are floating bollards (cleats) on the walls so the boats just tie off to the cleats and then the cleats raise or lower with the boats.  These boats came in with the basin full of water and are just ready to leave after the water dropped with them inside. 

So next time we come to Seattle we will definitely explore Lake Union.  That will give us a much better selection of marinas as well as the opportunity to moor within walking distance of some really nice neighbourhoods in Ballard or Fremont.  It will also let us moor in fresh water which is good to do once in a while because it will kill all the saltwater dependant boogers presently living on our hull.

Pretty nice in Seattle

We’ve been watching the news from the east coast and being grateful that we are on the west coast.  We’ve had some wind and we’ve had some rain but mostly its been pretty damn nice.


I’m kind of caught up on boat projects right now – I guess that means its time to start some new ones.  Mostly we’re just enjoying some down time.  There’s a home show starting this weekend which SWMBO says we are going to.  I guess now that she is a homeowner again she needs to go to home shows again.  I’m working on an excuse to avoid going.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Projects in Seattle

Well the thermometer moved up overnight and the sun came out this afternoon.  The day started out raining which washed away the little bits of snow that were left and this afternoon its in the mid 40’s again.  The wind is blowing a bit but you gotta love 45 degree weather in mid-February.

I’ve got about 4 boat projects on the go.  The cleat installation is ongoing – today I caught the bus to Stoneway Hardware in Ballard and bought a couple of 6 x 1/2 galvanized bolts.  Stoneway is an incredible hardware store – I shopped there a lot when we were originally outfitting Gray Hawk and I think I’ve already been there four times this trip.  They have the most incredible selection of fasteners in bronze, brass, stainless, galvanized and zinc plated.  They actually had 1/2” sizes – 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5 etc in all their galvanized bolts at least up to the 6 inch length that I was buying.  If they’ve got that assortment in galvanized then I can only imagine what they have in zinc plated and stainless.  There’s two long aisles with bulk bins up to my eye level on both sides for fasteners.

When I drilled the deck for the cleat it turned out that the deck is wood cored.  I don’t particularly like that.  Wood cores tend to be a problem on these old Taiwanese tubs because they get wet and rot.  True to form some water ran out when I drilled through.  Not much I can do about that now so I’m trying to seal the core where the bolts go through.  I bedded the cleat to the deck in thickened epoxy and then drilled through the cleat and deck.  Now I’ve got the bottoms of those holes plugged and I filled the holes with heated epoxy resin.  (heating it makes it thinner so it will work its way deeper into the wood)  Once that cures I’ll drill the holes again. 

While that is curing I’ve got a drainage project underway in the starboard aft locker (boatspeak for drawers on the right hand side at the back of the boat)  I dunno why boaters think they have to call things heads and galleys and lockers instead of shitters, kitchens and drawers but after a while it sort of becomes a habit.There’s a low spot under the stack of drawers where condensation from the inside of the hull collects and pools.  Then the water works its way under the floor and generally causes problems.  So last night I drilled a drainage hole as close to the bottom of that low spot as I could get.  I was a little spooked about drilling the hole because nothing is square and it felt like I might be drilling through the hull.  I wasn’t but it felt like I was and of course it was an awkward spot where I had to stand on my head and work blind which only made it feel more like I was about to put a 1/2” hole in the hull 3 feet below the waterline.

The hole ended up about 3/4 of an inch above the absolute bottom of the pocket so today I filled that space with epoxy resin.  The problem I had was that the spot was damp from condensation and my access was too limited to let me put a fan in to dry it out.  So I ended up wiping the area down as well as I could with paper towels and then I deliberately caused the epoxy to “kick”.  One of the features of epoxy that everyone who uses it eventually learns is how unpredictable it can be.  A batch that normally might take 7 or 8 hours to cure can all of a sudden start smoking and cure in a few minutes if you aren’t careful about how you handle it.  Typically what happens is you get too much depth of resin in a pot and the heat of reaction can’t escape fast enough so it starts a chain reaction which is referred to as “kicking”.  This morning my goal was to deliberately cause it to kick and I accomplished that by preheating the resin in the microwave.  It didn’t take much – I probably had 6 or 8 oz of resin and I heated it for less than 30 seconds.  I had about 30 seconds to dump it in the hold before it started steaming and a couple of minutes later it was rock solid.


I’ve also got the cover from the foredeck that goes over the storage compartment for the electrical cord in the cabin.  It was almost completely falling apart so I reglued it a few days ago and now I’m refinishing it.  Sometimes people ask “but what do you DO on a boat?”  Well, some weeks you mainly fix things.

I managed to find a 3 year old Garmin radome that is supposed to be in good condition and bought it from some dude in Maine.  It should arrive here this week.  The guy who wrote the core of the open source charting software that we use has also written a plug-in to drive a Garmin radome from within the software.  I just couldn’t talk myself into spending $1,200 to $3,000 for the radar display – buying just the radome was bad enough but considerably less painful.  By all reports Dave’s plug-in works really well and it sounds like a relatively simple installation. 

Apparently the Garmin radomes use a Cat 5 ethernet cable to take the radar information out of the radome.  Evidently all of the processing is actually done in the radome with the display simply acting as, well ….. a display.  I guess we’ll see but it will be a while because I need a special Amphenol connector which I ordered from Digi-Key.  That’s coming to Regina so it will be a while before we connect with it and once we do I’ll have to modify it a bit before we will know if the whole project is going to work or not.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Snowing in Seattle


Oh dear.  It snowed overnight and I really don’t want to go outdoors.  I started installing a 2nd cleat on the starboard side of the boat yesterday but the bolts I bought aren’t long enough.  No way in hell am I walking to the bus in this crap.  The forecast is good but so far its not melting.

20131207_075733 There’s only one solution to a cold day.  Another cup of coffee.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Eating in Seattle

It was my birthday today so Marilyn took me out for dinner.  A couple of days ago when we went to 2nd Wave I spotted a place called Blue C Sushi in Fremont and that’s where we ended up going.  It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Marilyn says this kind of place is common in Japan.  It has a central cooking and food prep area with an endless conveyor belt that runs by all the tables.  The food prep guys put stuff on the conveyor belt and if you see something that you like going by, you just grab it off the belt.  They use different coloured plates to indicate the price of each item and when you’re done they just add up the value of the empty plates to determine your bill.  The place we were at had prices ranging from $2.00 to $6.00 per plate.  For $2.00 you got 6 pieces of avocado roll – for $5.00 you got ahi tuna instead of avocado in the rolls.  I didn’t have anything over $5 so I’m not sure what you got for $6 but overall it was fun, good food and not really expensive.


We’re still waiting for the weather to warm up but its looking hopeful now.  They’ve got shit pumping regs in Washington so today I checked with the fuel dock to see what the story was on their shit pump.  As I expected, it is still froze up but the guy was optimistic that it might thaw out tomorrow.  We’re not desperate yet but it would work well for us to pump our tank on Monday before we cross over to Bremerton.  At home we just look for deep water and I fully expect that’s what happens to it here as well.  If we pump out in Victoria our shit gets mixed with the city shit which is then piped out into Georgia Strait and dumped (raw) into the ocean. 

As Frank Bond said years ago – the solution to pollution is dilution.  Collecting shit just leads to a bigger pile of shit to dispose of.  However, we’re guests of Washington State and they have regulations so all our valves are tied closed per regulations and we’re waiting for the dock pumpout to thaw out.  One thing I will say in Washington’s support – the regs are arguably stupid but they do have lots of free pumpout stations.  Their marine parks generally have at least one self-serve pumpout and most marinas have a pumpout which may or may not be free but at least is readily available.  Finding a Canadian pumpout station is pretty well impossible – there’s one on a float across from Newcastle Island but that’s actually the only one I can recall seeing in all our travels.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sleeping in Seattle

There’s not much happening here.  Marilyn is still wrapping up the AITC project and I’m doing boat housekeeping.  Yesterday I changed all the oil – both engines, both injector pumps and the Onan.  Elliott Bay has a waste oil recycling facility right in the marina so all we do is tell the harbourmaster that we need to dispose of some oil and a few minutes later here comes a dockboy carrying two empty pails. 

I spent most of today installing a time delay relay to run the fog horn.  A long time ago I bought a DIY electronics kit from somewhere online.  When we got back to the boat it had already been so long since I bought it that I had completely forgotten why I bought it – fortunately I eventually remembered.  I’ve always been half-assed fascinated by soldering electronics stuff together, not that I’ve actually ever done much of it.  So it was kind of fun to build the kit and, for a wonder, it actually worked when I got it finished.  I jury rigged a test light to set the on/off timers because I didn’t think blaring the foghorn for an hour would be a great idea.  Now we just need some real fog to test it out. 

I’ve also been trying to figure out a backup radar system but I just can’t get my head around the price of a new system.  It turns out that the open source charting software we use – OpenCPN – is capable of displaying a radar signal overlaid on the chart.  If I could make that work then all I’d need to add a backup radar system is the radome – the part that goes outside to transmit and receive the signals.  That’s pretty appealing because the radomes run about $1,000 while the display units run from $1,200 to well north of $5,000 depending on how big you want them to be.  Now that we’re used to using the big computer for navigation the little 8” display that you get for $1,200 looks pretty tiny.

The problem with using the OCPN plug-in is that the software to display the radar information is definitely bleeding edge.  I’m already running Beta software for our primary charting system.  After our excitement 2 weeks ago I’ve been running the stable version simultaneously on a second computer but our primary charting software is the Beta version (and therefore prone to crashing).  From the reading I’ve done it sounds like the radar plug-in is even more prone to crashes and probably not very feature rich either.  On the other hand though it would provide the backup we’re looking for at a fraction of the cost of a complete second system.  The ability to overlay the radar information on the charts would make both the chart and the radar information more useful.

Seattle has been pretty worked up over some football game last weekend.  I showed up in town wearing a Bronco’s bunnyhug that I bought years ago in Wallyworld.  It didn’t seem to matter that it was the Boise State Broncos not Denver so I stopped wearing it.  I expect I could go back to wearing it now – maybe I’d even get some sympathy.  We didn’t actually watch the game but it sounds like the opening play would have made Smilin’ Hank feel right at home.

On Friday we’ve got Gray Hawk’s past owner coming for supper.  Whenever it warms up a bit we’ll likely go across the sound to Bremerton.  The Bremerton marina was handing out free passes to spend two nights on their dock at the boat show.  It seemed like too good a bargain to pass up.  Right now we’re just waiting for it to warm up.