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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
06/08/2007, FKG Dock

AIS rules. AIS is the Automated Information System required on most commercial vessels and large pleasure boats. Cruising boats can get a receiver and easily pick up this information for display or chart plotter integration.

An AIS transmitter broadcasts a vessel's name, position, heading, speed, destination, ETA, mode of propulsion, length, beam, draft, MMSI and more over VHF. A well placed antenna will pick up shipping traffic 15 to 20 miles off. Because the system provides location, course over ground and speed over ground you can very accurately predict a collision danger.

I wanted to install this in Fort Lauderdale but the unit I ordered (Sitex) didn't arrive in time. It has been in my project box for a while now. Our friends on Rosario have AIS running and I was so jealous when we discussed it with them in the Bahamas. David said that one of his favorite things about AIS was that he could hail the other vessel by name. Getting on 16 and hailing "shipping traffic at lat/long" is likely to turn up dead air. Hailing "Andrea Star", gets their attention (perhaps wondering who is close enough to read the name on the bow).

I order the Sitex unit because that was what Raymarine used in their demo booth at the '06 Miami boat show (they now have their own unit). You can do a quick and dirty install but if you go by the book it is a fair amount of work. The AIS receiver needs its own antenna. If you hook it up to your VHF every time you transmit you blast the AIS, possibly loosing data, possibly damaging the AIS box. I decided to put the antenna on the port side of the traveler arch rather than opening the can of worms that installing it at the top of the mast (the optimal place) would have been.

I had my SSB and VHF hooked up to the E120 chart plotter NEMA port for position data and DSC info. They run at 19,200 though and the AIS can output a lot of data in a busy port and prefers 384,000. This means you need to get a NEMA to SeaTalk bridge to support the radios so that you can crank up the port speed on the NEMA to 384,000. Check. Once everything is installed you need to make sure that you have a newish version of the E120 software running.

Our setup is running and it is fantastic. I wish we had it crossing the Gulf Stream and the windward passage. The E120 has a bug causing it to alarm every time you get into a situation where there are no targets. This is annoying but hopefully a fix is on the way.

Saint Martin
07/16/2007 | Pablo Ramos
Hey this image reminds of a riddle. "You can see nothing else
When you look in my face,
I will look you in the eye
And I will never lie. "

I have not read your latest blogs but I will I like to look at the pictures first. On a lighter note, massive brush fires in A.D. along the 14 in Vasquez Rocks caught on fire, no structual damages happened which was good.
06/07/2007, FKG

Two things used to require a bit to much exertion on our boat. Raising the main (check) and bringing the dink aboard.

Getting our Walker Bay onto the aft deck used to require manually lifting the 8 HP off of the dinghy transom and loading it into the lazarette or stowing it on the rail of the big boat. Not easy on the joints for us old folks.

We had originally tried to hoist the dink with the retractable davits. It worked fine but our davit retraction line doesn't run too fair through the arch and makes it pretty impossible to lift much more than the Walker Bay empty. Putting the dink away turned into quite a chore. Take the motor off and put it away, clip in the dink, raise it up, and strap it down. My strap down system involved looping some nylon strapping around the swim platform pipe and other mumbo jump that took a fair amount of time to adjust.

We have revolutionized this whole mess. FKG set us up with a nice Lewmar 4 part block and tackle and we have welded eyes onto the swim platform pipe and the davit verticals near the bottom.

We can now tilt up the outboard on Little Star, haul it up on the block and tackle rig, bring the davit in, and drop it on the chocks. To strap it down I just clip two come alongs to the four hard points and ratchet them down. Awesome.

The only thing I'd do different is that I would get blocks with jammers (I still may). FKG welded some nice cleats on the davit so we cleat off the lines once the dink is in the air. This is trickier than it sounds on the heavy end. Jammers would let you just heave and go.

P.S. Easy dingy stowage has been a snap for us since the upgrade. We are in Saint Lucia now and even in anchorages where we get in at sunset and leave a dawn we have no second thoughts about dropping the dinghy for a quick ashore. I also don't have to stow the gas tank or unlock the outboard security setup. We drop it in the water and it's ready to go.

Saint Martin
06/06/2007, FKG Dock

How can you make the ultimate device of leisure, a sailboat, with no cup holders? I need a place for coffee before noon and beer after noon. Our boat has beautifully clean decks and a great cockpit, but no cup holders!

You don't need a cup holder, it's is a cat, I hear you say. This is true 59 minutes out of every hour. It's the one minute that dumps your Joe on the non skid that concerns me.

There's a wood working shop right next to FKG and in a last minute fit I asked them to make me a set of cup holders for the helm (the mug set) and the port cockpit (suitable for beer, Coke, Perrier or whatever turns you on).

After a little discussion of size location and materials they went to work. Two days later we have two perfect teak (hey now I have teak on the boat too!) cup holders.

Saint Martin
Halyard Tune Up
06/05/2007, Rigging Roundup

Every boat that we considered during our selection process had the option of bringing all of the sail controls back to the cockpit. Except the one we bought. Given that this safety feature was a very high priority for us you can guess how much we like everything else about the boat.

I had to go forward to put the second reef in during a squall with 35 knot sustained winds recently. No big deal to the old salts I'm sure. For my part, having to reef the main sail down with no luff line in big wind and seas from the fore deck is not my idea of fun. It is very hard to communicate with the helm in high winds from the fore deck and you are a lot more exposed which makes everything more difficult. If you're putting the second reef in you should probably be jacked in which complicates movement. It can also be difficult to make the reef point tack reach the clip if the sail doesn't come down flaked the way you want it. I have had to use a bit of line with a bolin on the reef tack to winch the ring down enough to clip in the tack.

Double handing means single handing much of the time and it would be great not to have to wake Hideko up every time I have to reef or shake one out. You just can't beat the comfort and safety of the cockpit for boat operations. Some say, "what if there's a problem at the mast, then you have to go forward anyway". True, but only then. The other 50 times you pull down the luff line while slipping the halyard, then bring in the leach line, tighten up the halyard and voila. All while staying nice and dry in the cockpit and having full control of the helm in case you get a big wave or whatever.

I had extensive discussions with the guys at FKG in Saint Martin about this matter and I believe that they are highly skilled riggers. Unfortunately their frank advice and my detailed examination of the options caused us to abandon the goal of bringing reefing capability to the cockpit at this juncture.

It would be complex to keep everything fair and I am guessing that the deck would need to be built up in areas where standing blocks, organizers and other hardware would end up. That said, the main set back was the rig itself. Our boat has three reef points with luff rings that clip in and leach lines that run through the boom to jammers at the mast end of the boom. Adding luff lines to bring to the cockpit was not something the current rig would accommodate easily. Switching to single line reefing would also require big changes. Defeated, temporarily, I fell back to an intermediate position.

To make reefing somewhat easier I had a reefing winch added to the back of the mast directly below the boom where the reef lines exit. Our boom originally had winches on port and starboard. The third winch has made the path for the leach lines much more fair than when running to the side mounted winches. It also allows me to leave the leach line on the winch which is nice because the boom jammers are hard to set under tension and not super reliable unless they have loaded up while set. The other benefit is that I can have the halyard on the starboard winch and I can use the port winch as a come-along to bring the reef cringle down to where I can clip it (another reason I'd prefer luff lines).

Our boat was designed to allow the windlass capstan to crank the halyard when raising the main. I'm not keen on the windlass solution for raising the main. The windlass is designed to haul rode and it burns the lines due to the capstan design and imperfect human tailing (perhaps I'm just not good at it). It is also hard to look down to keep the line from wrapping while also looking up to see that the battens are clear of the jacks and that none of the reef lines are tangled, etceteras. I don't like having the anchor locker hatch open if it is bumpy. Perhaps I'm biased but it just seems like another job that should be done from the cockpit.

After a short discussion with the riggers we came up with a simple solution. First we swapped the main halyard with the storm jib halyard. This put the main halyard on the helm side of the mast. Then we added an eye to the mast at a spot that would allow the halyard to lead fair back to the primary winch at the helm through a snatch block.

The main halyard is not living in the cockpit as I originally wanted but I now get 90% of the benefit. To raise the main I go forward and pull the sail up as far as possible by hand with the clutch closed (I can skip this bit if single handing in winds too tricky for the auto pilot). Then I clip the halyard into the snatch block on the new eye and bring the halyard back to the helm. I put the halyard on the self-tailing powered primary winch and press the button with my foot. This allows me to steer the boat with both hands, watch the sail with perfect visibility and let the winch do the work. When the sail is close to the top I bring the halyard tail forward, put it on the starboard mast winch and tighten it up leaving the halyard on the mast winch with the mast clutch closed. Perfect.

P.S. We've done 500 miles with this new rig setup and it is great. Previously if we were had an hour hop I would often motor even if the wind was good just because it was too much work to raise the main for such a short trip. I have used the windlass a few times but I think it is more hassel than it is worth, so I switched to the manual mast winch. This is hard work. Cats have heavy main sails with lots of roach, full battens and big square footage. The main is the power sail on most cats. Ours is 947 square feet. I never timed myself but it took quite a while to get the main all the way up the 73' above the water stick. If we just motored we'd be there.

Now we put the sails up every chance we get. Hideko can raise the main easily as well. Just go forward and grab the halyard, snap it in, bring it back, put it on the winch and press the button. You have great visibility and control of the boat so you don't typically get hung up when raising the main from the cockpit. The benefit has just emboldened me to continue to look for a way to bring all the lines back!

Saint Martin
Marking the Chain
06/04/2007, FKG Dock

We hauled all of the primary anchor chain out on the dock today to mark it off. I've though about getting an automatic chain counter. They look really slick. Press the down button on the windlass and get a digital readout of how much chain you have out. How cool is that? Unfortunately everyone I've talked to that has one is fairly non plussed.

We decided to spray paint our chain fluorescent orange every 25 feet with unique markings every 100 feet. We also found these cool little chain markers at Island Water World so we're using those with the paint. The markers are colored so we have created a scheme that allows you to tell exactly how much chain is out by just reading the markers.

It seems like such a simple thing but the first time we anchored with the new set up we both were so happy to be able to tell exactly what we had out. I must say that the paint is a lot more visible than the markers but then again the paint won't last forever and the markers look like they might.

Saint Martin
Hanging out in Marigot
06/03/2007, Marigot

We spent the day today with Fred, Cindy and Jill in Marigot. We ate lots of pastries and crepes. A great day in my book.

Hideko has located all of the good pastry shops on the Dutch side so we actually eat pretty good back on the boat as well. We are plowing through the Alias episodes rapidly with plenty of quiche and eclairs to keep us conscious.

Saint Martin
Onto the FKG Dock
06/02/2007, FKG Riggers

We moved onto the FKG dock today. I have been stopping in every day to see if they're ready for us and I think it has helped. They can't start on the boat for another few days but at least we're in front of them. If we're going to sit in this water at least now we have shore power and dinghy-less shore access.

A boat called Rush showed up in the anchorage today. I really dig their paint job. They took off before we had a chance to meet them.

There is a cruisers net on the VHF in the mornings in Saint Martin. This morning several cruisers were getting info on wind generators. They decided to head over to Budget Marine to consider some options so I joined in. It turned out to be Seeyamanana and Lone Star. We had met SYM in the BVI and had heard Lone Star on the radio all the way back in the Bahamas but had never met them. No one actually bought and I think I have talked myself out of the concept. We have a great solar panel set up and the down side on the wind generator isn't overcome by the marginal extra power we would generate. At least that's my stance for the next 10 minutes.

Patrick from FKG repaired the main breaker on our Inverter Charger today. The breaker was burned and was acting like a resistor. The Charger saw a volt more than there was on the batteries (i.e 13 instead of 12) so never charged and the Inverter saw a volt less (i.e. 11 instead of 12) and thus always shut down. We had a 150 amp breaker on the circuit which we replaced with a fuse. The Inverter/Charger went from boat anchor to useful device.

Patrick also put a rush on our new shore power cables allowing us to hook up to 50 amps for the first time. We had a 30 amp service previously which prohibited running both AirCon units. This boat is a bit too big for one AirCon to cool. Two work great though. Another great improvement.

I've been working on my own list of projects as the electronics guys do their thing. For the first time I can actually imagine a state of completion where I am actually happy with the state of things. Its a bit off still but I can see the light!

Saint Martin

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