Saturday, June 27, 2015

Northern BC Coast to Prince Rupert

June 12, 2015 Pruth Bay, Calvert Isl
We decided to cross over to the Kwakshua Channel which separates Calvert Island and Hecate Island.  At the far end of Kwakshua Channel is Pruth Bay, home of the Hakai Research Institute.  The facility seems very out of place with excellent docks, piped in diesel and gas for their fleet of boats (also all in excellent condition), a heli pad with helicopter waiting at the ready, 50KW of solar power, internet via satellite (the first internet we encountered since Port McNeill), brand new dorm buildings, research buildings, boardwalks through the woods to a spectacular beach on the ocean side, etc.  This place was better outfitted than any private or government facility that I’ve seen in a long time.  It seemed like the bad-guy’s secret lair in a James Bond movie.  But it’s all very innocent and well meaning.  A guy who made a ton of money is medical imaging systems and has set up and funded the place.    See  Anyone working there is quite fortunate to be so well sponsored.

June 13, 2015 Ocean Falls
Next we headed way inland, up Fishers Channel, then up Cousins Inlet to Ocean Falls.  Ocean Falls is quite the trip, and seems like stepping into a post apocalyptic movie set.  This was a thriving town up through the early 70s with a cannery, paper mill, a couple of hotels, large dormitories to house workers, and all the infrastructure of such a town.  There is a large lake above it with a dam and hydro power plant.  What was once a 5000 person community is now home to 25 people, and they seem to have the pick of which ever house they want to live in.  A few buildings are clearly lived in and nicely kept.  Others appear intact but are over grown with weeds and trees,  and whole blocks of apparently poorly build homes are slowly melting into the ground.  Two, perhaps three hotels stand vacant, one of which was never occupied.

Welcome Center, Ocean Falls, BC

Abandoned homes in Ocean Falls

The whole town, practically abandoned

Today, the hydro plant just keeps on running and provides all the local power, plus power for the two closest communities, Bella Bella and Shearwater.  There are a couple of private docks, and one open to visitors.  Down on the dock is the welcome center building where you can check your email and read about the history of Ocean Falls.

For us, the coolest part about Ocean Falls was that we saw our first pair of orcas, and two enormous schools of dolphins.  As we were working our way up Cousins inlet, way off in the distance we could see what looked like a large breaking boat wake coming towards us.  But as we got closer we could see what it really was – a line of dolphins spanning pretty much the entire width of the inlet working their way south.  Our first thought when we saw this splashing line was that they were herding fish in preparation for a feast.  And that might still be the case, but we later discovered there might be more going on.

Not too far behind the second line of dolphins were two orcas.  And not too far from us they caught something pretty big for dinner.  It then occurred to us that the orcas were likely hunting the dolphins, and a guy in town later confirmed that’s what they do.  So perhaps the line formation is a defense?  Big fish like it when little fish school together because you can eat in one big gulp.  Perhaps the dolphins intentionally spread out to make it harder for the orcas to pick a target, and to limit the scope of damage when they do.  It’s fascinating stuff that I know nothing about.

Waterfront condos south of Ocean Falls

June 14, 2015 Tom Bay (anchor dragging), Salmon Bay (too deep), Rescue Bay
The next day we were up, down and around all sorts of islands, mostly working our way west in the end.  We had identified three possible stopping places for the night, the first of which was Tom Bay.  It was a really nice location with reasonably shallow depths of 60’ or so, but after putting out the anchor we were clearly dragging.  In retrospect, we should have tried again, but instead moved on to the next spot, Salmon Bay.

Salmon bay was also a wonderful setting, but we knew anchoring would be harder since it’s quite deep (150’+) and comes up very steeply at the head of the cove.  When we got in there and got as close to shore as we were comfortable, there was just too much depth.  So off we went to our third choice, Rescue Bay.

We could see ahead of time on AIS that there were at least two other large boats already in Rescue Bay, so I was a bit worried about finding space.  Given the depths we were going to need 200-250’ of swing.  On arrival, we found ourselves to be the 4th or 5th boat in, but there was enough room and we were able to get solidly anchored for the night.

One treat in Rescue Bay was a pair of Red Throated Loons.  They made for a nice end to an otherwise stressful day.

June 15, 2015 Bottleneck Cove
The next day was a shorter run over to and up the Finlayson Channel to Bottleneck Cove.  As its name implies, the entrance to the cover is a narrow passage that subsequently opens up into a long, but relatively narrow cove.  The whole thing is shaped like a wine bottle.  Anchoring was in 40 feet or so of water which is a good thing because the cove is pretty narrow and when we swung towards the shore line we were about as close as I’d like to be.  Yet another lovely spot that more than made up for our anchorage search the day before.

Light station

June 16, 2015 Coghlan Anchorage, Promise Isl
The next day was once again about getting positioned for a long trip with tide and current consideration.  Goghlan Anchorage is just inside Promise Island and right around the corner from the entrance to Grenville Channel.  The trip was uneventful, but anchoring was a bit of a trick.  The guide books and charts said the bottom was gravel which is usually excellent for anchoring.  But once we got the anchor down it felt and sounded like solid ledge.  It’s amazing what you feel and hear transmitted up the anchor chain, and you could clearly hear the anchor scraping across rock ledge.  We finally got settled, but as I monitored more closely I could see that we were very slowly dragging.  That’s not a formula for a good night’s sleep, so I hauled the anchor, moved a little ways, and tried again.  This time it dragged a bit then caught hard.  We were set for the night.

June 17, 2015 Grenville Channel, Stop at Lowe Inlet, Verney Falls, Prince Rupert
The Grenville Channel is a 50nm cut from Wright Sound through to Chatham Sound where Prince Rupert it located.  The current through it this time of year isn’t huge, but runs 2kts or so and can make the difference between a long day and a very long day, so timing maters.  Like the discovery Passage, Grenville floods from both ends and ebbs out both ends with the transition point more or less in the middle.  Also, about ¼ of the way through is Lowe Inlet, at the head of which is Verney Falls.  Apparently Verney Falls is a huge collecting spot for bears during the salmon runs, but we are too early for that.

Grenville Channel

Our plan was to depart early catching the flood for the first part of the trip.  We figured we’d stop into Lowe Inlet to see the falls, then decide whether to stay there for the night or continue on.  Lowe Inlet and the falls were very nice and I can see how it would be food-heaven for bears when the salmon are running, but there was nothing but water on our stop so we decided to continue on to Prince Rupert.  We made great time up the channel and only had neutral or unfavorable current for perhaps an hour out of the whole trip.  Then the ebb took us out the rest of the way into Chatham Sound.  A few more miles and we were entering Prince Rupert harbour which is quite the operation. It is quite the commercial port.  A large rail terminal right at the docks that can take freight anywhere in Canada or the US.   There were 3-4 freighters being loaded or unloaded, and 3 or 4 more anchored in the harbour.  Then another 2 anchored further off shore, presumably waiting to get in.  We didn’t go to any of the town docks, but rather anchored in a cove across the way.

Entering Prince Rupert, BC

Northern BC Coast and Deep Anchoring

June 10, 2015

The next major segment of our trip was the BC coast from the end of Vancouver Island up to Prince Rupert near the US Alaskan Boarder.  This stretch is another 250nm that fronts the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Hecate Straight.  Queen Charlotte Sound is open to the ocean, and although Hecate Straight is somewhat shielded by the Queen Charlotte Islands, it is still a very open segment of water and subject to some nasty conditions.  The good news is that the coast is actually a collection of islands, inlets, and passages that allow for an almost entirely inland and protected voyage.  And to boot, it includes some beautiful destinations.

Our first stop out of Port McNeill was Allison Harbour which is just barely past the end of Vancouver Island and not really even into Queen Charlotte Sound.  But it positioned us well to make an early AM rounding of Cape Caution, which as the name suggests can be a rough area.  Allison Harbour also made for an easy first day and was a spectacular, long channel with great anchoring up at the end.

Allison Harbour

June 11, 2015
Time for our first exposure to open ocean and to round Cape Caution.  Now bear in mind that last fall we came the whole 1200nm up the west coast of the US out in the open ocean, but all things are relative and calm water is always preferable to rough.

It’s probably worth a brief side note on the daily weather pattern in this area.  Mornings tend to be very calm, and around noon the wind picks up.  To whatever extend it’s going to blow, it does so over the afternoon.  Often times from 3-6pm it blows the most, but then it settles right down and the nights are typically dead calm.  In general we have fallen into a pattern of getting going early in the AM and traveling while it’s calmest with a goal of reaching our destination early afternoon.

The trip around Cape Caution was completely uneventful, and we approached Penrose Island in the late morning.  Our destination for the evening was Big Fry Pan, a secluded anchorage shaped as its name suggests.  You enter through a very narrow channel where you can practically touch the overhanging trees, then turn the corner and find yourself in a beautiful enclosed cove.  Once inside, it’s hard to spot the exit and seems like you are in an enclosed pond.

One good thing about this area with respect to navigation is that it’s deep.  The entrance channel to Fry Pan, though narrow, was plenty deep.  One bad thing about this area with respect to anchoring is that it’s deep.  Fry Pan is about 80’ deep, so a 3:1 scope is about 250’ of chain, and 5:1 is 400’ which is all I’ve got.  Putting out that much chain takes some time.

We use the windlass both to deploy and retrieve the anchor, and it runs at about 50’/min.  So paying out 250’ is a 5 minute operation.   It can take about 2 minutes before the anchor even reaches the bottom, which is a critical time because that’s when I need to remember to set the anchor alarms.  The alarms create a boundary circle centered on the anchor, and your boat should never venture outside the circle.  If it does, the alarms go off.

Another complication that arises from deep anchoring is that your swing space increases.  A simplistic formula is that your swing radius is the amount of chain that you have out.  It’s a simplified formula for two reasons.

First, your rode doesn’t stretch horizontally from the anchor to your boat.  It descends down at an angle towards the anchor on the sea bottom.  If you draw out a triangle depicting your horizontal distance from the anchor, depth to the anchor, and the rode as the hypotenuse, you can see how it works.  The swing radius, assuming the rode is pulled perfectly tight and straight, is the length of the rode times the cosine of the angle.  If I can remember my trigonometry correctly, which is not at all a certainty, it works out that the swing radius is 95% or more of the rode length for scopes of 3:1 and higher.  So, for all intents and purposes, the same as the rode length, making this simplification pretty darn accurate.

The second simplification is that the boat’s swing radius actually includes the length of the boat, not just the length of the rode.  For a 65’ boat with 200’ of chain out, that’s a significant difference and one that really needs to be taken into consideration.  So, the preferred simplification is to assume that your swing radius is the length of your rode plus the length of your boat.  So in our case, I would consider 200’ of chain to give us a 265’ swing radius.

You might be wondering why I’m going on about this now.  Well, it’s because many of these charming anchorages are small, so we really need to consider our required swing space.  And often times the areas that are shallow enough to anchor are also too close to shore or shallow water once you consider your swing space.  And then of course there is the tide.  50’ of water depth at low tide can be 70’ at high tide, and you need to figure your scope based on high tide, not low.  Yet you need to be sure you don’t swing too close to shallow water when you have low tide and the shallows are closest to you.

Oh, and there is one more challenge that is exacerbated when you have deep water and restricted swing room.  The location where you set the anchor becomes more and more important, and when you are waiting for 100’ of chain to pay out before the anchor touches bottom, you need to be sure you haven’t drifted off your intended location.  I’ve started to pre-deploy the anchor when in a deep location, positioning it 20’ or so above the bottom while I slowly position the boat where I want the anchor set.   Then when I start lowering it again, I only need to hold position for 30 seconds or so before the anchor is on the bottom.  Then it’s a matter of slowly drifting/powering down wind in an attempt to lay the chain out rather than dumping it in a big pile.  Then, once you have the desired amount of chain laid out, gently back down on it to set the anchor to ensure it’s dug into the bottom.  This is the moment of truth where you find out if you picked a good spot and the anchor digs in, or if you are on rock ledge and the anchor just skips across it and you need to go through the whole process again.

The temptation is to try setting the anchor with as little chain out as possible.  It can take 5 minutes to get the required length paid out, and if the anchor doesn’t set, you just need to winch it all back in again and try somewhere else.  But if you jump the gun and try to set with too little scope, the pull angle of the chain is more up than horizontal, and it tends to prevent the anchor from setting rather than encourage it.  I’ve learned this the hard way.

So far our experience is that a 3:1 scope appears to work fine in deep water as long as you can get a good bite on the bottom.  With 300’ of chain in 100’ depth, there is a significant amount of weight just in the chain itself…  around 750lbs.   As the boat pulls away from the anchor, it’s lifting more and more of that chain off the bottom, and that weight is pulling the boat back towards the anchor.  That weight and the parabolic shape that the chain takes on serves two key purposes.  First, as tension increases, more of the chain lifts off the bottom.  But the part closest to the anchor is the last to lift.  This ensures that the direction of pull at the anchor is horizontal in all but the most extreme conditions, and that’s the angle where the anchor has the most holding power.   Second, the weight of the chain cushions the force on both the boat and the anchor.  The more the chain lifts, the harder gravity pulls back, creating a spring-like action.

Transiting Vancouver Island

June 5, 2015
Underway, heading north, it now feels like the journey has really started.  Our first major segment is to travel the length of Vancouver Island (all 250nm of it), running on the inside between it and the mainland.  Approximately the first half is the open waters of the Straight of Georgia.  The next third or so, starting with Seymour Narrows and continuing through the Discovery Passage and Johnstone Straight, are long relatively narrow straights with wind and current considerations.  Under worst case conditions, Seymour Narrows current can run over 10 kts.  Our boat can only move about 9 kts, so you can see that we need to time it with some care.  The last part opens up again into the Queen Charlotte Straight.

Our first destination, about half way up the Straight of Georgia, was a spot called Ballet Bay.  Entering the bay was our first exercise in creeping in through a narrow channel into the woods, only to find it opens into a beautiful cove.  This would be the first of many such anchorages, remote, unspoiled, and mostly uninhabited.  It also was the beginning of the end of cell phone service.

June 6, 2015
Today’s goal was to get our selves positioned close to Seymour Narrows where we could spend the night then catch slack high water at the narrows for our pass through.  Gowlland Harbour is off to the east side of the approach to Seymour Narrows and just a few miles away making it easy to time your arrival.

June 7, 2015
The channel beyond Seymour Narrows – Discover Passage – floods from both ends in towards the middle, then ebbs out both ends from the middle.  Going north as we are, the trick is to go through the narrows a bit before slack water on the rising tide.  The residual flood will give you some extra speed heading north and get you far enough that once the current turns and starts to ebb, it will pull you along out the north end and into Johnstone Straight.

Oh, and did I mention the cruise ships?  There is a steady parade of them running to and from Alaska this time of year, and they all come down through the straights and Seymour Narrows.  And they all time their pass for slack water, just as we are.  And these cruise ships are big – around 900-1000’ long.   The evening before while at anchor in Gowlland Harbour I could see them passing by during the evening slack water.  There seem to be about 5 per day that go through.  Nothing like a little traffic to add some excitement.

Well, clearly I worry too much, because our pass through Seymour around 8:30AM was uneventful, and the currents carried us favorably through the 13nm of Discovery Passage in no time at all, bringing us to Johnstone Straight.

Seymour Narrows not looking very narrow or very treacherous

Johnstone Straight has a reputation for being pretty nasty at times, but of course it all depends on the conditions.  The worst is when you have strong ebb current (heading northwest) and a strong wind coming against it from the northwest.  As you will recall, we were riding the ebb current up Discovery Passage and out into Johnstone Straight, so had at least half of the ingredients for a nasty ride.  Our plan was to size up the situation when we arrived at Johnstone and either bail out or continue on.  On arrival, conditions were good, it was early, and we were still making good time, so we kept on going.

Our strategy worked great until we passed through Current Passage off Hardwicke Island and come out into the longest and most open part of Johnstone Straight.  At this point the wind had kicked up to 15-25 kts, the ebb was at its maximum, and the boat was hammering up and down into the waves.  When things in the pilot house start getting air borne, it’s time for plan B.  Port Neville was only a few miles away across the straight, so we started heading there, but then realized that the large bay closer by looked like it would offer some reasonable protection from the worst of things, and was closer and offered easier anchoring with more swing room, so over we went.

Although there was no Active Captain marker for it, it turned out to be a pretty good refuge in Blenkinsop Bay.  The land around it was relatively low so much of the wind still came through, but holding was excellent and the wave action was greatly diminished.  Two other boats came in later, and although one had a hard time getting his anchor set, both ended up tight for the night.

June 8, 2015
Up in the morning and on our way to Port McNeill.  Port McNeill and Port Hardy are the last two ports at the north end of Vancouver Island, and pretty much mark the end of populated towns along the BC coast until you reach Prince Rupert up near the US Alaskan boarder.

Johnstone Straight

McNeill is a pretty utilitarian place, and that’s just what one needs before venturing off for the next leg of a journey.  There is a hardware/building store, a marine and logging store, a couple of grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.   We used the phones and internet, went grocery shopping, bought misc parts, and readied ourselves for the next segment – The BC Coast.

While in Port McNeill, we had an interesting experience.  A few days earlier we had finalized the contract to sell our Grand Banks, and in preparation for the closing there were a number of papers that we needed sign and get notarized.  Well apparently north of the Campbell River (Seymour Narrows where we passed a couple of days ago), there are no notaries.  I have no idea why, but instead you use an attorney.  Undeterred, we asked the friendly and very helpful guys at the marina office where we might find such a person.  Well, there was only one attorney in Port McNeill, so they rang him up for us.  I spoke to a nice gentleman, explained our situation, and asked if he might be able to notarize a few documents for us.  He agreed, asked where I was, and said his office was right across the street over the sports bar.

These direction made prefect sense given the sports bar that I could see out the window, however the guys at the marina were describing a different location for the office.  I figured the guy must have moved offices, so off we went.  But over the bar we just motel rooms?  Puzzling, so I googled the office and found the address was as described by the guys at the marina.  As we were walking to this alternate location, I decided to call the attorney's office again just to confirm where I was going.  They were puzzled why it was taking me so long to walk across the street, so I explained where we were.

Ahh haa, it turns out that this law firm has two offices, one in Port McNeill and one in Port Hardy.  The attorney in Port McNeill was out for the day, so the phone had forward to the Port Hardy office and they naturally thought I was calling from there.  What a comedy.  But we were able to make an appointment for 9:00AM the next day in Port McNeill to catch the attorney before he again left for the day.

Now you probably think the story is over, but it's not.  It turns out that in Canada a notary actually looks at what's being signed.  Or maybe that just what an attorney naturally does.  In the US, a Notary is nothing more than a witnessing and certification of a signature.  All it says is that you appeared before the notary, convinced them who your were, and they saw you personally sign the document.  They don't look at the document.  In fact, it's none of their business what's being signed.  All they are saying is "that's Peter's signature.  I saw him sign it".  Well, our Canadian attorney wanted to pour through all these bills of sale and warranties of title and this and that.  And then it started to get really funny.  The boat was being sold to a guy named Patsy.  He jokingly asked if this was a mob deal, then looked at our passports and saw that we were both born in New Jersey.  Now he was really worried about this deal that he was witnessing and certifying and wondering how legitimate it really was.  But we got through it and all had a good chuckle.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Our Alaska Adventure Begins

June 1, 2015
We are finally underway on our summer trip to Alaska.  This trip has been 6 years in the making ever since our children treated us to a National Geographic/Lindblad cruise of Alaska in 2009.  On that trip we said we would come back, but in our own boat.  Well, here we go....

We departed Seattle with out first planned stop at Sucia Island, our favorite San Juan Island.   It was a long day, but worth it with such a pleasant destination to look forward to.  Unlike our visits over the winter, there were close to ½ dozen boats already there either anchored or on one of the state park moorings.  But it’s a very large bay with plenty of room so we anchored and still had tons of privacy.  Thankful to be out of the city and in a more remote setting, we decided to stay for two nights.

June 3, 2015
Made the run from Sucia Island to Vancouver, arriving Vancouver’s False Creek  around 3:30pm.   I made the call into Canadian Customs on our approach, and I think reached someone who didn’t quite understand private boat arrivals resulting in a much more confused check-in than is typical for Canada.  Usually it’s the picture of efficiency.  I was told I needed to go to the Fisherman’s Terminal the check in. No problem.  We anchored up at the head of False Creek, which is right smack in the middle of Vancouver with great views and great access, especially to Grenville Market.

Entering False Creek, Vancouver, BC

I launched the dinghy and went the couple of miles back to the Fisherman’s terminal to check in.    Often times there is a dedicated, well marked dock for customs, but not this time, so I tied up and went up to the office.  The guy there said there was no customs office, and to call from down at the dock.  OK, that made sense.  The customs docks typically have a “Bat-Phone” that connects you directly to customs.  I must have just missed it when I was on the dock.  But no, there was no phone, no sign, nothing.  So I called again on my cell phone.  This time the guy who answered was well versed in boat arrivals and told me that I was already checked in.  Huh?  It seems the last person checked us in after all.  All they needed to do was give me my clearance number and I was done.  That gets printed out and taped in the boat’s window along with your entry date so any customs officials can see that you have already cleared in.  So, all’s well that ends well, and I was able to scope out the terminal and docks around Grenville Market which was handy since we were planning to return that evening to meet up with friends and fellow Nordhavn owners, the Kemps, for dinner.

Our next day in Vancouver involved a bunch of errands including a trip to a Telus store to get a USB data stick for the boat.    It’s a 3G/4G data device for the cell network that you normally plug into your laptop for internet, but we have a cool router on the boat that you can plug it into and it provides internet for the whole boat.  We have a Verizon USB stick as well, but the roaming rates are ridiculous so it was cheaper to buy a second one from Telus with a month-to-month plan.  We will be back in Canada in a month or two, and I expect again over the winter, so we should get plenty of use out of it.  Supposedly it’s unlocked so should work with a SIM card and data plan from other carriers as well.

Anchored at the head of False Creek, Vancouver, BC

Topping off the second day and concluding our stay was a terrific dinner at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club with other friends and fellow Nordhavn owners, the Talbots.  RVYC is quite the establishment with several locations around Vancouver including where we ate overlooking Vancouver’s English Bay.

As a little navigation side bar, back in 2011 on our Downeast Loop trip, we attained our northernmost latitude while boating.  While rounding the top of the Gaspe Peninsula, we crossed 49deg.  It turns out that Vancouver is almost exactly the same latitude, so from here on out we will move the record a little further north pretty much every day.  This trip we expect to reach a little north of 58deg.  In the east, that’s equivalent to the southern tip of Greenland, or the middle of Hudson Bay.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

NMEA 2000 Weirdness Continues

This started out as a set of comments in the pilot house tour post, but I think it warrants it's own post since it's a good example of the problems one encounters with NMEA 2000 products, and how it can bankrupt a marine electronics installer and/or boat owner.

Carl E. said...
Hi Peter,

Thank you very much for the walk through and the commentary. Great also to see the whole package (I may have occasionally forgotten this stuff is meant to pilot a boat :)) in her element.

A previous post indicated there were still some gremlins on the N2K bus with regard to instancing, leading to the autopilot not getting a 10 Hz heading. Any improvement since then?

Finally, do you have some sort of concentrator for your video streams to interface them to the computer?
Peter Hayden said...
Hi Carl,

Glad you (and others) enjoyed the walk through.

I am still having some issues with N2K, but I don't recall any that interfere with getting 10hz heading to the pilot. But I'm probably just not remembering. The issue I'm working now is some interaction between Rose Point's N2K adapter and Furuno's NavPilot. The NavPilot is doing some things that make no sense and are disruptive on the bus, and perhaps even include a malformed PGN. Then, in the presence of the NavPilot misbehavior, the Rose Point adapter appears to misbehave as well. We will get it sorted out in time. Rose Point is all over it, as it typical of their attentiveness. Furuno is a little harder to rally, but as of today I have a new trace that pretty clearly shows the issues.

Carl E. said...
Hi Peter,

You mentioned the problem here:

More on NMEA 2000

Something about a bus storm every 10 seconds which occasionally prevented the heading information to propagate often enough?

Ahh, thanks.  Do you want to be my memory?

This actually is a good illustration of the problems an N2K user like myself encounter, and why people start tearing their hair out (yes, I am bald).  I still have the exact same underlying problem, namely the traffic storm.  But the symptoms are now different.  The pilot hasn't lost its heading source in months, but instead, an old symptom has returned.  Some time ago I mentioned that Coastal Explorer would occasionally show "No Fix" in place of the GPS status display.  This happens just for a second or two then the status display resumes normally.  There are no alarms and CE keeps working fine.

A while back someone, perhaps even you, asked if that problem had been resolved.  Or maybe you asked about the Fast Packer Errors since I suspected they might be the cause of the transient "no Fix" problem.  See there's that memory thing again!  Anyway I though the problem was gone but it came back.  Now I'm pretty sure it's a symptom of the address claim storms that I am still chasing.

Getting back to my point, anyone just operating my boat would have seen the No Fix problem, but then it went away.  Then they would have seen the NavPilot losing its heading source, but that problem went away too.  And now the No Fix problem has returned.  It's an exercise in chasing shadows, but there appears to be a single underlying cause.

Problems like this are killers for electronics installers and customers alike.  Chasing them down is hugely time consuming.  If the installer isn't charging for their time, they would lose their shirt.  And if the customer is paying to chase down these problems, they would be in the poor house.  I have been chasing this underlying address claim storm for going on 6 months now.

I have to admit that I am considering converting more of my system from N2K to NMEA 0183, and have started to sketch out what such a system would look like.  I've also considered segregating the Maretron monitoring systems from the navigation systems, but didn't go far with that idea.  Some of the navigation components also need to be monitored, so I would have to bring both N2K buses into the Maretron N2KView monitoring system, and I have no experience with how well that works, or if it's even possible.  Experience says it will be a new can of worms.  And besides, the interaction problem I have right now is between two navigation devices, so separate buses wouldn't solve the present problem.

The good news is that running the boat works fine, at least for now.  But having these odd problems is just real trouble waiting to happen, and that's not what I want on a boat.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pilot House Tour

I've been asked a couple of times for a geek tour of the boat.  All I can say is be careful what you ask for....  Let me know if this is what you like so I can do more, do less, do something different, or not quit my day job....

Pilot House Tour, Part 1

Pilot House Tour, Part 2

Pilot House Tour, Part 3


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cruising actually is fun

Anyone reading this blog might be led to believe boating is nothing but problems and troubles.  Not so.  I'm a confessed geek, so I blog a lot about geek stuff.  But the reason we do all this is to cruise to remote and interesting places, and it really is worth all the trouble.

Over the winter we got out for two trips, each about 10 days or so.  In both cases we were just kicking around Puget Sound and up into the San Juan Islands.

Here are a few excerpts:

On our way into Seattle last fall we anchored for a night at Port Angeles.  The combination of fog, sunlight, and ships at the docks made for a great start to the morning.
Port Angeles in the morning

 In January we got back out again and stopped a number of places around Puget Sound.  First stop was Port Madison, and the next night was Port Ludlow where we were treated to another morning of hanging mist below the mountains.
Port Ludlow in the morning

 Next we went to Bainbridge and hung out for a few days, then headed up to the San Juans.  Stopping places included Mackaye Harbor on Lopez Island, Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, both on San Juan Island, then Sucia Island at the very north end of the island.  Below are two different sunrises at Sucia on two different mornings, each spectacular in it's own way

Sunrise at Sucia Island

Sunrise at Sucia Island
 In the second trip we ended up back at Lopez, but this time in Hunter Harbor where we got in a little kayaking.

Tanglewood in Hunter Bay, Lopez Island

 After Hunter, we made a slightly impulsive decision to go to Victoria, BC.  We had been wanting to go for a long time, so off we went for 3 great days in Victoria.

Victoria with Tanglewood in the background

 Then, back to one of our new favorite places... Sucia Island for yet another amazing morning view, this time of a full moon rising just after daybreak.

Moonrise from Sucia Island

Beached at Sucia Island

Sandstone formations at Sucia Island

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Simrad auto pilot bugs

This is an overdue post for people interested in Marine Electronics and their peculiarities.  Back when I started reporting all the problems I encountered with Simrad/Navico products, I promised to document the auto pilot problems.  Well, finally, here it is.  Sorry for the long delay, but I’ve been occupied with getting the boat working and getting underway for Alaska, which we finally are…  Besides, I’ve been trying to move beyond the Simrad fiasco.  But at the same time I think it’s important to hold companies accountable for their products, and in today’s world, sharing the good, bad, and ugly is the best way to do it.

I have to admit that I’m surprised by the issues I had with the Simrad pilot.  I had a nearly identical Simrad pilot on my Grand Banks and it worked great.  In general, they have a stellar reputation.  Really the only things different in the Nordhavn pilot was the addition of several Follow-up steering controls, and the NSO chart plotter which is also capable of controlling the pilot. 

Here’s what the system looked like:

  • AC12 auto pilot computer.  This is the brains that implements the steering control and drives the hydraulic steering pump.
  • AP28 controller.  This is a user control panel that lets you configure and control the pilot.  There were two of them, one in the pilot house, and one on the fly bridge.
  • RC42 rate compass.  This is an electronic compass used to keep track of where the boat is pointing and is a critical part of a good auto pilot implementation
  • RF25 rudder position sensor.  I had two of these for redundancy.  They link to the steering mechanism and report the rudder position to the pilot.
  • HS70 satellite compass.  This is a second compass that figures out your position and heading based on three GPS receivers.  It’s a very precise heading device, and is used as the primary instrument with the RC42 as a backup.
  • FU80 Follow up levers.  These are knobs/levers that are used to position the rudder instead of using the steering wheel.  It’s much like the tiller on a sail boat with it’s position directly reflecting the rudder position, except it tells the pilot where to position the rudder and the hydraulic system does the work.  These are really good for close in maneuvering where you often need to swing the rudder quickly from one extreme to the other.  It’s much faster than cranking the wheel.  And, by placing them at the wing stations, you can steer from there as well as from the pilot house or fly bridge.
  • NSO chart plotter.  This is the multi function chart plotter that, among other things, is able to act as an auto pilot controller just like the AP28.

There really is nothing unusual about this setup, hence my surprise that I encountered so many problem.  I can only guess at the causes, and won’t.  It’s really up to Simrad to figure all this out, and hopefully they will.

Here are the issues I encountered, in no particular order:

  • The first and most frustrating issue is that I was unable to build a redundant auto pilot system as desired, even though Simrad told me in no uncertain terms that it would work.  The idea was to have two computers, multiple control panels, dual rudder sensors, two heading sensors, such that if anything broke I could keep on going with little fan fare.  The Pilot controller has menus where you can select which rudder sensor to use, which heading sensor, and even which computer.  When I was planning the system, I detailed what I was thinking of doing and asked Simrad if it would work as I expected.  They told me in writing that it would do exactly what I asked.  So that’s what I bought and built.  Well, after hours and hours of beating our heads against the wall dealing with odd configuration issues, lost configuration information, etc., we finally gave up on the idea of dual pilots and rewired everything so that I had a single system with pre-installed spares that I could switch over to quickly in a pinch.  Simrad later told me that it wouldn’t work (duhh) and that it was never designed to be used that way.  Wow, thanks guys.
  • The AP28s and FU80s are powered by the N2K bus, and switched on via a button on the AP28.  Press the AP28 power button and the AP28 comes alive along with the FU80s.  Power down the AP28 and the FU80s power down too.  It’s pretty slick, except it doesn’t work.  This is one area where the introduction of the NSO into the mix may be the cause, but I’m not sure.
    • When you power on the NSO, it wakes up the FU80s, but it doesn’t power up the AP28.  That’s inconvenient, but not a lot worse.
    • But, when you power down the NSO, it does not also power down the FU80s.  This places all the FU80s into an alarm state making a beep beep beep sound, and there is no way to turn it off other than killing power to the N2K bus.  That’s a real problem.
    • The NSO has an option to disable its internal pilot controller, which I tried.  But even with the pilot controller disabled, it still powers up all the FU80s when you turn it on.
    • If you power up the AP28, it turns on the FU80s.  If you powering down the AP28, it also powers down the FU80s.  At least it does this most of the time, but not always.  A number of times I powered down the AP28 and the FU80s remained on, and promptly went into an alarmed state.
    • Here’s a real doozy.  If the NSO is turned on before the AC12 breaker is turned on, the AC12 becomes permanently undiscoverable, locked up, and dead.  Even after the AC12 power is on, the NSO will alarm saying there is no AP computer.  Turning on either of the AP28s also generated alarms saying there was no AP computer.  Shutting everything off and then powering up the AC12 first, followed by the NSO and/or AP28s had the same results – no auto pilot computer.  It is forever lost.  But, I finally tripped over how to unlock it.  If you cycle power on the N2K bus, it would reset.  Cycling power on the AC12 didn’t help – it had to be the N2K power.  Once N2K power had been cycled, the AC12 would again be discovered as expected provided you always apply power to the AC12 before you turn on the NSO..  How’s that for a screw-ball problem?
  • One mode you can operate the AP in is called Nav mode, where it follows a route provided from your chart plotter.  In this mode, it displays the name of the current waypoint that it’s steering towards.  Except it doesn’t properly interpret the name and always includes two random junk characters after the waypoint name.  So something like “Bald Point” gets displayed as “Bald Point&#”.  This one is harmless, but having such an in-your-face bug reflects so poorly on product testing and overall quality.
  • The rudder sensor reports the rudder position via a message on the N2K bus.  This message has the provision for including a rudder number so you can report two or more rudder positions.  Due to vagaries in the N2K specs and resulting different interpretations of what’s legitimate behavior, Simrad reports 255 as the rudder number which they think means “not supported”.  But Maretron interprets 255 as an invalid rudder number and does not display the data, leaving me with no good way to verify that both rudder sensors are operating and in agreement – a basic check for any redundant system.  Simrad provided me with new firmware to work around this, and it solved that problem.  But it thoroughly broke their own AP product so had to be abandoned.
  • I never figured out how to make this happen, but several times the pilot got into a state where it said it was using the RC42 compass, but was displaying the heading from the HS70.  Each reported a slightly different heading, so it was clear which was being used.
  • The pilot would also get into a state where even though I had selected the HS70 as the heading source, every time I would power down and back up, it would revert back to the RC42.    Under all other circumstances and for all other sensors, it would remember the last selection across all power cycles and restarts.
  • I also encountered a case where after selecting the HS70 as the heading source, it would display “-40” instead of “HS70-40”.  It basically lost the first part of the device name.

By the time the last few problems were surfacing, I had decided to get rid of the Simrad auto pilot too.  The pilot always steered the boat very well, so I had no complaints on that front.  But all these interfacing and control problems were yet another huge time sink for me, and I frankly had no confidence that Simrad placed any priority on fixing them.  And as you can see, some of these are real problem that reflect fundamental operation errors.