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Saturday, 4 March 2017

Carnival In Trinidad

We came, we saw, we danced - Carnival in Trinidad is one very long and VERY LOUD mobile dance party.  Feathers, lycra, bangles, beads, fishnet stockings and lots of exposed flesh was the dress code.  Skimpy, tight, stretchy and bright, with no worries about body image here mon. All shapes, sizes and ages were out there strutting their stuff in the "Pretty Mas" parade. Some groups seemed to have a theme, some were more keen on brilliant colours and lots, lots of flesh, but they were all out parading, shuffling and boogying around Port Of Spain.

The large groups danced to VERY LOUD local Soca music.  Did I say VERY LOUD ?  Yes, well it was VERY LOUD.  Many people wore ear plugs all day, which made conversation a little difficult. Each dance group or "band" had it's own mobile DJ system, a huge array of speakers on a long semitrailer, with a large diesel generator to keep it all pumping. No way could you hear the generators, even from 6 feet away.  IT WAS ALL VERY LOUD.  The speaker trucks were followed closely by the Liquid Refreshment Truck, which mixed rum and what ever you fancied at record breaking speed.
DJ music truck

Carnival in Trinidad is a business, so you pay your money to join a group, get the costume with all the finery and a large mug, with which to drink from the free flowing booze truck.  After the booze truck comes another flatbed truck with a line of Portaloos - a very necessary need for the thirsty drinkers - er dancers.  The largest groups had up to nine trucks, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of dancers. At various locations there are judging positions where each group stops and performs, swaying, shimmying and moving to the Soca rhythm. The groups are judged on these performances and on the creativity and presentation of the "band" and the costumes of the "kings" or "queens". At the end of the day the votes are tallied and some one wins a lot of money. In reality it is Trinidad that wins, as at least 20% of the participants are tourist, who pay up to US$1000.00 to join the parade.

One of the songs that was played over and over was Full Extreme, by MX Prime and Multiple Rejects.  It was played an unbelievable 556 times throughout the day - you can listen to it here.

So what did we do for 7 hours?  We found a rooftop bar that overlooked the parade, of course.  For a reasonable fee it provided us with a base to come and go, enjoy a cold drink, eat, and spend time with locals and other tourists who were all there to watch the parade and have fun. At street level we were often submerged in feathers and bodies as the revelers broke ranks from the parade and mingled on the footpaths.  The bigger bands had ropes to keep some sort of order, but generally chaos ruled.  The rain came down, there were lots of wet droopy feathers and slippery bodies, but it was all good fun.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Month With The Iguanas

It has been a busy month here at the Power Boats yard in Trinidad. This is prime cruising season, so the boat yard has rapidly emptied. There are a few of us are still working away on boat jobs and it's lucky that we have both friends and the resident Iguanas keep us company.

Phil Welding On The Bow
We had two unexpected setbacks this month.   Firstly our welder Ian, from Chaguarmas Metals, was hurt in a car crash, then his boss also had a car accident, so our welding and stainless projects came to a stand still.

To our rescue came Phil Christieson, from the New Zealand yacht Windora. He offered to complete the welding on the new stainless steel bow roller extension - it took two long sessions, standing on high planks in the blazing Trinidad sun, before the new part was finally and beautifully welded in to place.

Secondly, our local painter Rawle spent 6 days in hospital and was diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer. We kept busy whilst Rawle was recovering as we had a lot of refinishing to do, including hatches on deck and an area of hull surface inside, around the refrigerator.

Rawle returned to work last week and followed his doctors orders, taking his meds, cut down his working hours and is now eating lunch every day.  With Neil assisting, the blue boot stripe has been sprayed and the waterline marked. Visual progress at last.

Here is our month summarized in images :

Spraying Epoxy Primer, Almost Ready For Top Coat

Spraying Primer At The Bow, Where We Removed The Stainless Steel Striker Plate
Rawle Spraying Awlgrip Top Coat

Neil & Rawle Measuring And Taping The Boot Stripe Lines

Rawle Spraying The Blue Boot Stripe

Shiny Topside, With Window Surrounds Being Refurbished

This one is my favourite image. Rawle has been helping Neil with his spray painting technique - best of all, we have found that we can use our PowerDive hooka as the compressed air source for our small spray gun.

Today we started building the paint layers on our wonderful Gori propeller. It is my favourite image because this means that we will be applying anti-fouling and launching in the next few weeks - there is water at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Feathers and Pan

As a visitor to the West Indies, you can't think of Trinidad without thinking Carnival! Steel (pan) bands, parades, stunningly costumed men and woman strutting out dancing ... and rum, lots of rum.

So when we heard that Jessie James from Members Only was organizing an evening tour of pan rehearsals and Mas Camps, we booked.  On arrival at our first destination, Jessie began talking in another language - competitions for Dirty Mas, Pretty Mas, Jóuvert, Kings and Queens, Soca music and Panorama, He cited prize money for the winners of each event of up to One Million TT dollars.

Mas is short for masquerade procession. Dirty Mas is a dawn parade that starts around 2:00am, the first of the carnival processions, where dancers are covered in everything from mud to motor oil to liquid chocolate. The Pretty Mas procession is held the following day, and is where the very best costumes and finery are on show. Our first stop was where Jóuvert or dirty mas began - participants pay a fee to join the group, wearing the team shirt they dance with locals and tourists around town, drinking rum and juice and having paint and whatever thrown at them.

Next stop of the evening tour was to a costume factory, where more of the carnival mystique was explained.  At one shop the theme was an Arabian Wedding and there were many different styles of costumes, all with prices displayed.  Only then did it dawn on us that Carnival in Port Of Spain, Trinidad, is now a fully commercial venture.  Organized by government and business to attract tourists, who travel from all corners of the world to not only watch but to pay real money to dress up and be part of the Carnival.

The costumes are splendid, just what we had expected, just not the price tag that excluded most of the locals from participating unless they were sponsored.  We visited two costume shops and then were dropped outside a workshop to see where some of the costumes were being made. As soon as we started peering in, the door opened and we were invited to look, touch and even try on some of the fabulous feathers. Lots of hot glue gunning with feathers, sequins and lycra.

Four Special Pans Are The Guitar Section.
After dinner we settled in to listen to a rehearsal for the Silver Stars pan orchestra. This was a large pan orchestra, with over 45 players using many different types of steel pan drums.  There was also a large rythm section, with various drums, congas and percussion instruments.

As it was a rehearsal we listened to the same 12 minute composition, over and over.  The conductor was focussing that night on building dynamic range into the performance, working various sections of the orchestra at different times so that they could develop the necessary  crescendo required in one part of the composition.

Eventually the whole band played together, covering the entire piece.  Finally the conductor gave the orchestra it's head and said "ÖK, lets do it with feeling" - never have we felt music like this. Check the link here to a prior Silver Stars rehearsal.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Playing Rugby Again

Galley Hatch Base Removed, Refurbishing The Mounting Area
Rugby, to the uninitiated, is the game where sometimes you throw the ball backwards, to move forwards.

Which is what it feels like on Crystal Blues this month.

Fortunately, after our seven week break back in Melbourne, the weather here in Trinidad is now a little cooler and less humid.

Our job list has a very bad habit of growing, not shrinking, whilst we are on the hard stand. After sailing over 11,000 nm in the 2 years since the last haul out, the job list is quite extensive.

Jobs completed:

Hull under water is sanded and ready for antifouling.
Cockpit table is re varnished.
Neil Grinding Out The Damaged Paint Sections
Repaired and repainted the mast surfaces around the spinnaker pole track.
New clears, zippers and bolt rope in the windscreen that connects the dodger to the bimini.
Both outboard motors serviced.
New Tru-Design changover valves installed for the black water holding tank.
New toilet seat installed.
New shower mixer tap installed.
Paint repairs in the mid bilge and the aft fuel locker.
End for end the anchor chain.
Installed new line jammer for the topping lift, on the mast.

All Ready For Sand Blasting
Jobs in progress:

Repairing and rebedding our six Goiot deck hatch frames
Repairing the paint system above the waterline
New custom stainless steel life line stanchions
Varnishing the companion way surrounds
Repair and repaint spinnaker pole and boat hook
Pop rivet spinnaker track back on mast
New custom alloy bracket for the boom vang
Repair to Genoa along the bolt rope, restitch the sunbrella sacrificial cloth
Clean and polish the boat

These are just the major projects - there are of course many others. In the process of finding why the stainless striker plate for the anchor was weeping, the job grew ... once the plate was removed and poor adhesion was noted, we decided to eliminate it all together and extend the anchor roller assembly instead. This will involve stainless steel welding, which will of course blow some paint off in the bow area - hmm, are we ever going to launch?

There are quite a few more jobs that haven't even been started yet.  Just in case you are wondering, Ley is in the midst of all this, sand blasting, mixing paint, painting, as well as keeping up with house keeping. Its going to be a busy few weeks more until we are on our way north.

Click the link below to see activity from the last couple of weeks in pictures.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Blunt's Boatyard, Williamstown

Many of my childhood memories are associated with this place - my father bought his first boat (an 18ft Jubilee) out of this shed. My first (and only) wooden boat was repaired there. On each visit to Melbourne I still spend some time at Blunt's, where the eyes can go misty and the heart often beats a little stronger.

Some years back Greg Blunt, with typically minimal ceremony, handed me a key to the place. He explained that he knew how much I loved it there, and told me I was always welcome. This is my chance to say thanks to Greg, and to the boat building generations that went before him. Enjoy the video.

Eastern Australian Travels

Big Country, Big Sky - Lake Omeo In North East Victoria
Back home in Australia, we've been celebrating with family and catching up with friends, whilst also trying to see some of our home state. Of course we're also dealing with a range of boat issues, buying equipment and parts to carry back to Crystal Blues in Trinidad.

This week we caught up with Mike and Sue Powell on SV Yarrandoo, as they waited in Twofold Bay (Eden) for a weather window to head south to Tasmania. The trip south is an annual pilgrimage for many sailors during the Australian summer, with many heading for southern Tasmania.

Stepping aboard a familiar vessel with old friends was a real warm and fuzzy experience - the comfortable harbor reminding us that Twofold Bay is a great cruising destination.

We then traveled north to my favorite small town of Omeo, driving up through the foot-hills of the Australian Alps. At this point I should say that my mother's family came from the Omeo area, and that Ley and I spent quite a lot of time up in the region before our sailing life began.

Drinking From My Favourite Creek At Staleyville
So we visited our favorite bush campsites and drove the familiar mountain roads with a joyful hearts, gifted with beautiful weather. The impact of recent forest fires was evident everywhere, including through our camp site, where the blackened trees reminded us of the fragile nature of our world.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Refit Tech - Re-Bedding Hatches With Threaded Epoxy Fasteners

Cracking The Hatch Frame Off The Deck
We sailed over 11,000 nautical miles in the past two years, so now we're working through a fairly major work list on Crystal Blues.

As always, just as fast as we tick something off a new item is discovered and added to the list - at last count 35 items were completed,  with only 40 to go (!).

Among our major jobs is the refurbishing and re-bedding of our six Goiot deck hatches.

My Grandfather's Anvil Was Used To Straighten The Frame
These have not been touched since the boat was launched, and still don't leak at all, but the aluminium base rings (attached to the deck) are corroding badly in some areas.

As a trial, we've removed one hatch completely, cleaned up the frame and had some of the larger corrosion holes filled with alloy weld by a skilled local welder. Then, after some inspired sleuthing, Ley located a small anodising plant in the south of the island, run by a group of local motor cycle racing enthusiasts. They've re-anodised the frame and we're now ready to refit it to the deck.

Tapping The Epoxy
The original fastening system was somewhat uninspiring - we wanted a better way to securely screw these hatches down while also maintaining a perfect water seal for the interior of the boat. After considering various options, including adding a welded stainless steel flange to the deck, we've opted for a simpler and less intrusive option, that doesn't involve damage to the paint systems on deck.

With generous help from our friend Peter Laine, a shipwright and boat builder based at Chagauramas in Trinidad, we repaired the epoxy fairing compound that provides the level bed for the hatch on the curved deck.

Recoil Inserted Dry, Pulled Out @ 300kg
We used West System epoxy modified with microfiber for this task. Then we drilled and tapped "blind" holes directly into the modified epoxy and tested the result - it was reasonably strong but did not survive multiple fastener removals or insertions - the thread tended to "crumble" away with multiple use.

Test Recoil Inserted Wet, Could Not Be Removed In Our Test
Now we've improved on the original idea, running tests here in Australia to prove the new process. We're using Recoil thread inserts, made from 316 stainless steel, to create a permanent metal thread inside a tapped hole in the epoxy bed. Note that standard Recoil inserts are made from 304 stainless, but 316 can be obtained on special order.

We found that a 5mm Recoil insert screwed dry into the prepared hole would handle more than 300kg of load, applied with a short pinch bar, before pulling out.  Better still, if we coated the insert with wet epoxy before insertion, we simply couldn't extract it with our simple "pinch bar test" - it was plenty strong. When we return to Crystal Blues we can now continue the refitting task - only five hatches and one hundred holes to go.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Refitting Crystal Blues - Island Style

Painting The Mast
With Crystal Blues out of the water we've launched into our refit list, attacking a range of maintenance and re-finishing tasks.

Areas of corrosion had developed on the painted aluminium mast, particularly where the spinnaker pole track was fastened. So we removed the track, drilling out 130 pop rivets in the process, before grinding, sanding and re-priming the metal surfaces with epoxy paints.

Then we faired and finished the front of the mast with high build epoxies and finally applied two coats of Awlgrip polyurethane topcoat by brush. Using the Awlgrip brushing converter and brushing reducer we can achieve a good film thickness and a great finish.

Most of this work was done from a bosuns chair, swinging in the breeze, so it has taken some considerable time. It takes just over 100 turns of the halyard winch handle for Ley to hoist me up to the top of the work area, and she's done that probably 30 times over the course of this little project. Tough work, but someone had to do it!

Sand Blasting With Basic Protective Clothing
Sand Blasted Area Before Priming With Epoxy
The illegal fishing net that trapped us off the coast of Suriname (read that story here & here) did quite a lot of damage underwater - bare wire twists on the top line of the net dragged down the hull gouging the paint system badly.  In a couple of places we it went back to bare metal, so we needed to properly prepare and re-finish those patches.

We purchased a bucket of "black beauty" blasting grit from a local ship yard and used our small sand blasting gun with a rented air compressor to prepare the damaged areas. After blasting we quickly applied the first coat of Jotun Jotamastic 87 (silver), the highest solids steel primer that Jotun manufacture. The repairs were finished off with four more coats of Jotamastic plus Jotun Penguard HB, a high build epoxy primer.

While the work list is still quite long, we do have time for some R&R here on the island.  Regular cruiser BBQ's are held each Thursday night in the boatyard, and on Friday evenings the resident musicians come out to play - usually between six and ten of us working on a range of songs from blues to rock, some new and some golden oldies of course.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Trinidad Boating Services

Here in Trinidad the locals are proud of their boating support services, though nearby Grenada has stolen a lot of the work in recent years. From our perspective, the services and work force are somewhat jaded - yes there are good skills here, but there are also many contractors with disappointing attitudes and indifferent approaches to the task. A real shame.

The result is that many cruisers are doing their own work, where ever possible, or at minimum are having to very closely manage the local trades people. Part of the problem is that each yard hosts a number of trades people as commercial tenants, and naturally refers visiting boats to those "internal" service providers. This makes it tricky when you really want quality - the best service providers may well be partnered with another yard. We've had to part company with two contractors in our yard (Power Boats) due to poor quality results.  It was all handled nicely enough, but we're still looking for the right people.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Shore Power Conversion & Electrical Ramblings

Lifted out of the water and propped up on the hard stand here in Trinidad, we find ourselves for the first time having to deal with 110 volt / 60 hertz AC power. Yes, we're in a USA influenced part of the world, but Crystal Blues is a 220 volt / 50 hertz vessel. It's been kind of amusing getting things sorted out, without blowing anything (or anybody) up. Most amusing is the fact that right now we have three (yes three, count 'em) separate shore power cords connected to support our quasi-camping life style here on the hard stand.

Three Different Sockets, All 60 Hz, Some 2-Phase 220v.
First, The Shore Power Supply

Our regular shore power lead is now plugged into a 30 amp 110 volt 60 hertz supply. On-board the boat, this is passes through a Mastervolt Ivet-C isolation transformer to raise the voltage to 220 volts, though it is still at 60 hertz frequency. The transformer provides voltage matching and isolates us from the marina electrical ground system.

Most of the time we can operate from this shore power supply, as (surprisingly) much of the equipment on-board is quite happy with a 60 hertz supply.  We can use our battery charger, power tools and vacuum cleaner, home appliances, hot water heater, media and computer equipment, all without problems.

Only the galley microwave, the refrigeration and the boat's central air conditioning will not run on 60 hertz. This is not a big problem right now - when we need to use the microwave we switch over to the inverter and run it off the batteries. The refrigeration and central aircon are both sea water cooled, so they cannot be run while we are out of the water anyway...

Second, Real Time Conversion

Our second connection is direct to the battery charger only.  In the long term, once we are back in the water, most of our needs in this part of the world will be met by the real time conversion process.  Shore power will go only to the Mastervolt Chargemaster 100 amp battery charger. That charger works from almost any shore supply frequency to feed the batteries up to 100 amps of (nominal) 12 volt DC power - this equals happy batteries.

At the same time, the Mastervolt Mass Sine inverter uses this DC supply to create a clean 220 volts / 50 hertz sine wave power supply (at up to 2000 watts) that will run most of the boat's systems. Once we're out of the boat yard, living afloat again, that process allows us to run even our big water cooled refrigeration compressor - the inverter starts and runs that compressor easily. In fact it will also run the central aircon, but I do feel guilty even contemplating that type of decadence at sea. Also a little embarrassed to admit that I've even tested it (which I have) ... but then again, a Tesla car runs air conditioning from a battery supply - why shouldn't we do the same ? Maybe when our batteries are bigger.

At this point we should really give thanks to Bob Wisniewski who initially opened my eyes to real time conversion and who clearly simplified our life in the 60 hertz world . Back in the year 2000, when we were refitting Crystal Blues for the first time, Bob owned and managed Power Protection Solutions in Queensland, Australia. We wanted to buy a new (single combi unit) Mastervolt Inverter/Charger from him, but Bob asked me some pertinent questions and then recommended against it.

He said that if we were staying in the Australian / Pacific / Asian region then a single unit "Combi" Inverter/Charger would be just fine. However, if we planned to cruise further afield, entering the area of 60 hertz power supply, then installing a stand alone inverter and a separate charger would serve us better - and he's right. Real Time Conversion keeps our systems running at all times, and we don't need to worry about the voltage or frequency of the shore supply. So a big thanks from us to Bob Wisniewski, whose vision is keeping our beer cold in this 60 hertz world! Note : Bob is now working with BLA in Queensland, the current Mastervolt distributor in Australia.

Third, The Air Conditioning

It is damn hot here. Power cord number three is for a rented A/C unit, provided by the boat yard, that operates on that quaint 220 volt dual phase 60 hertz system that pollutes US society.  It has no neutral conductor, so is considered kind of dangerous by us purists. It should be protected by dual pole circuit breakers at all times, but you can guess correctly that it rarely is in practice. In fact the power supply poles here do not have any circuit protection at all - no breakers, no earth leakage devices at all - yoiks. So the boat yard provides the AC unit to sit on the deck, a fiberglass housing to direct the cool air down below and the necessary 220v / 60hz cabling. That's cord number three, keeping us cool while out of the water, but definitely not plugged into the boat thank you very much.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Dirty, Dirty, People - Again - Removing The Antifouling Paint

Photo courtesy Peter Laine

Early This Morning, Speckled Progress Is Measured

Crystal Blues is looking like a speckled hyena, sitting awkwardly on the hard stand in Trinidad. We in turn are looking like wet and bedraggled coal mine workers.

Six years of accumulated paint is coming off, as we sand back to the yellow tie coat layer underneath. The black antifouling paint is quite toxic, also incredibly tough, so we're using an air powered random orbital sander and wet sanding under a water spray to eliminate the dust.

Along the way we're repairing some deep gouges caused by the (very) nasty net we hooked up off the coast of Suriname. That net dragged paint of the boat in about 20 places, initially around the waterline and then lower on the hull when the propeller twisted it up tight. In two places it went back to the steel, so we're repairing the epoxy base coat as well.

Andy Sanding With Ley On Hose Duty

After the first full day of sanding we hired someone with younger shoulders to share the load.  Our local friend Andy works freelance boat jobs in the yard here and is a practiced hand when it comes to this work.  We rotate ourselves on and off the air tool, totally dripping wet at all times, and gradually the black color is removed and the speckled hyena look takes over.  

The hard stand area here (yard web site here) is not really hard - it's a sandy soil that looks like dredging spoil. Each time it rains the entire area is boggy and soft, and in the tropical downpours there is two or three inches of water under the boat. The only positive side of all this is that we are cool, which is a pleasant change in this hot and humid climate. One more day should see the job completed and we'll move on to less onerous tasks. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Northern Lights - Exhaust Injection Elbow Blues

Looks Good On The Outside, But Completely Rusted Out On The Inside
Our first maintenance job in Trinidad was to investigate why our Northern Lights generator was not coping with larger loads.

Valve or injector problems was the local agent's opinion (and mine), however the freelance mechanic they referred us to knew better. After asking some well focused questions he said he would pull the exhaust injection elbow off first.

I'm glad he did - it was found to be almost totally blocked by corrosion and accumulated soot.  The poor little diesel had been working against enormous back pressure for some time - no wonder it was feeling over loaded.

Now I was warned about this - my friend Dana on the sailing yacht Villa G had a similar experience. It seems that these generators are shipped from the factory with a - wait for it - cast iron injection elbow.  These just have to rust out very quickly and I think we were lucky to get over 1700 hours of service.

We did have a spare injection elbow on board, this one made from shiny cast 316L stainless steel - I'm told it will last three times as long as the cast iron version.  They just cost a little more, which is why they are considered "optional" - not standard equipment. With the new elbow fitted the machined returned to full power immediately, and we breathed a sigh of relief. This was the first part failure on our Northern Lights generator since new, we're still very impressed with the reliability.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Wildlife At Chagauramas, Trinidad

While the water at the docks in Chagauramas can be very polluted, we can still see turtles swimming in the lagoon just a few hundred meters away.

Better still, the local pelicans are very friendly and Ley was able to track and photograph this Iguana right next to the local lunch spot - the Roti Hut.

The birdlife is also prolific in this part of the world, and we'll have to work hard to stop them nesting in our boom and under our sun covers whilst we are hauled out of the water.

Mosquito Bites

At the micro end of the scale, mosquito's are evident though not really bad here.  The dreaded Zika virus is here of course and Ley was unlucky enough to catch it. However it is not as common as in nearby Grenada, where it seems that every second cruising sailor has had it. Ley is fully recovered now, after a week of discomfort, tiredness and high temperatures.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Onward To Trinidad - Preparing For Haul Out & Refit

Afternoon Thunder Storms Welcome Us To Trinidad
After two weeks in Grenada we moved onward to Trinidad, just 80 nautical miles away, in theory.  In practice that distance grew as we first sailed east and then south, avoiding an area known for robbery and occasional attacks on cruising boats - it appears that the desperate social conditions in nearby Venezuela have turned Venezuelan fishermen into opportunistic robbers.

Peaceful Conditions At Power Boats A Dock
Not a problem, we can go around it - so we sailed a large dog-leg of almost 120 nautical miles and arrived in Trinidad relaxed and looking forward to our new home.

Up until this arrival we had assumed that booking a marina berth was like booking a safe, comfortable place to berth our vessel. Not so in Trinidad it seems. Yes we had a berth, but it was a pile berth exposed to the ocean from the south. Waves would break right over the dock we were tied to in any decent southerly wind.  Hmmm - all this and it 'aint cheap my friends. No floating docks, no sea wall - but hey, it's the Caribbean, just chill man. Add another few fenders and every spring line we have, then you can sleep at night. Specially if you drink enough rum.

Tropical Storm Matthew Passes North Of Us
Some two weeks after our arrival here hurricane Matthew passed to the north of us, then unfortunately grew to Category 4 status and proceeded to tear up the island chain and threaten the US south east coast.

Local advice was to leave the dock when southerly winds were possible, so we did just that and anchored up in nearby peaceful Scotland Bay, for a relaxed evening as Matthew (thankfully) turned north and accelerated away from us.  Bless his very dark, black and stormy Force Four heart.

Trinidad is below the accepted hurricane zone, which is why we're here - however, big rotating storms passing just 100 miles north of us tend to focus our attention somewhat. Jeez....

In The Slings, Michael Driving Crystal Blues To Ground
Two days ago we hauled out of the water - at predictably great cost to the management, Crystal Blues was lifted by a sixty ton travel lift using double slings at each end. I felt good, specially after I dived in the filthy dock water to check the sling positions myself. "No Sir, we don't have divers" was the boat yard response - so in I went.

I pumped detergent into the water for a minute or so before diving, just to break up the oil slick on top. Not a tropical paradise here at the dock ....

Ah, but now we're really here - propped on the hard stand in a nice position, immediately adjacent to SV Tegan, friends from more than 12 years back.  Only problem is that they (Janet & Joe) are not here ... they're home in Canada ... so we'll watch both boats.

The daily regime is now up at 6:00am, and get into the work before the heat arrives. Breakfast and coffee are handled quickly, as we contemplate a job list that is probably too long to be completed in the time we have available. Such is the cruising life.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Compass Installation Made Easy

Recently I came across a cruising sailboat with a beautiful new compass installation - problem was, it just didn't work. The compass had been installed in a location where the local magnetic interference was very strong, consequently the compass readings were sadly inaccurate.

A boat's compass uses the earth's magnetic flux to drive the floating card - any local magnetic forces can distort or even dominate at the compass, ruining the compass accuracy. Loudspeakers, engine blocks, electric motors, electric cables and the like can all distort the reading and in the case of steel boats the hull also has an effect.

We faced similar challenges when positioning our Raymarine EV-1 Sensor Core. This unit contains a fluxgate electronic compass, a multi axis solid state gyro and a GPS receiver.

The Sensor Core is the real intelligence that drives our autopilot system - it was important that we found a satisfactory location for the unit - the same goes for any magnetic compass. Raymarine's installation guides said it should work fine where our previous electronic compass was mounted, but we wanted to check alternate sites. In the end we measured the lowest magnetic flux field right where the old compass was mounted - out on the stainless davits mounted on the stern. Unfortunately this meant running the STng network cables another 10 meters through the boat and out onto the davits, but that's another story...

Multi Measures App

To test possible compass installation locations we used two software tools that run on the iPhone / iPad operating system. Multi Measures, by Skypaw, is an app that includes a basic Tesla meter - it graphs the field strength and gives x/y/z orientation for the magnetic flux field.

Incidentally, Tesla is the name for a measured unit of magnetic flux density, named after Nikola Tesla, a Serbian - American physicist and engineer.

What makes a good Sensor Core or electronic compass location ?  It should ideally close to the vessel center line, with access for the required network cabling and with a decent view of the sky so the internal GPS can operate. However the real driver here is lack of magnetic interference - that's the fundamental requirement.

Using the Multi Measures app we were able to wander around the boat, watching the display in real time and testing all the possible installation locations. When testing each location its a good idea to operate all the boats electrical systems, to make sure that no interference is generated when say the genset is started or when the water heater is switched on. The Multi Measures app also includes a tilt measuring function, truly useful for mounting things horizontally or vertically on boats that often have no useful reference lines.

Gemeco Marine Installers App

We also used the very capable Tesla meter included in the iNstall marine installers app by Gemeco. The Gemeco company distributes a wide range of marine electronics and NMEA network products in the USA, so this app is clearly aimed at marine electronics technicians.

iNstall includes a generous number of tools, references and calculators to make marine electronics installation a little easier - transducer details, cable sizing tools, tilt measurement and a "mix'n'match" guide for sorting out product compatibility.

The Tesla meter within the app allows you to zero the meter scale once a background level is established, then see the differences as electrical systems or machinery are activated.

Sadly for us, these handy Tesla meters proved that our inspired "alternate location" choices were not so good after all, and the Sensor Core ended up installed back out on the davits, where it works just fine.